Only few months ago it was said the US would not see an American rider stand on a DAKAR podium any sooner than 5 years out. Now everything has changed and you can snip 3 years off that target.
Ricky Brabec is halfway through his first DAKAR and signs point to him having a solid finish and thus, a future World Championship Rallies. With 3 out of 6 stages posting top tens and climbing from a #48 seed, the former SCORE 1x Champion is likely to set a new course for his career a week from now. That’s if he can hold it together and finish strongly in the top 10 or 15. If you’re a fan of his, this is what you want to cheer for.
Virtually hand-picked and endorsed by DAKAR vet Quinn Cody for a “trial” ride on HRC earlier this year, the 24 year-old Brabec flew to United Arab Emirates to compete in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge. There, although he wasn’t technically “navigating” with instruments, he rode an HRC prototype rally-raid bike through the dunes, had a crash but still managed respectably. At the ADDC, GPS enabled computers on the handlebars point the rider to the waypoints and to stay on course.
Now, halfway though D16, Brabec has proven his muster with the elements of a true navigation rally, by far the world’s toughest. These elements, just to name the big ones, include extreme weather changes, high altitudes, sleep deprivation, hundred of miles per day of monotonous transfer sections, complicated rules and procedures of the rally organizer. Oh, and he also has to race with the pressure of being the least experienced navigator on the team.
Here’s where the test will come this week on Wednesday- a placed called Fiambala, Argentina, a historically decisive locale where navigating the dunes (and the dunes themselves) have changed fates and beaten riders into submission. Although the riders will get their first sand dune challenges on Monday’s stage 8, Brabecs biggest test will be Fiambala.
Something else to consider about Ricky’s remaining week to come- how he sits in physical relation to his 3 remaining HRC teammates, one starting in front of him and 2 behind. This is an ideal situation for Brabec to start the second half. The rally leader is Paulo “Speedy” Goncalves, for whom Ricky must stop to help if anything mechanical goes wrong. Doing so and losing a chance at a top ten wouldn’t hinder Brabecs future in Rally. On the other hand, hypothetically speaking, if “Speedy” were to have a minor injury (broken hand, wrist or foot) mid-stage, Brabec would likely be waived on by him to continue. After all, the rookie is on 29 minutes and 9 riders away from the podium with 6 days and 3500 km to go.
In summary, Ricky Brabec is doing slightly better than can be expected in his first week in this arena. For America to hope to cut our 5-year goal by 3 or 4, he needs to settle in, stay in tact and finish with a top ten. It’s been 5 years this month since an American rookie (Quinn Cody 9th, 2011) has done this; and we really need Ricky to do this, more so than most can imagine. Good luck to you amigo. We are counting on you.