2019 DAKAR: SS8, Please Exit Stage Left

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In the Eighth Special, Brabec’s Luck Ran Out for a Second Time at a Dakar

There’s only so much to say about the Peruvian landscapes hosting the 2019 Dakar Rally. It’s sandy, dusty and unpredictable. Although Special Stage 8 might have offered relatively less navigational challenges, it still has seen its fair share of obstacles. News about front runner Ricky Brabec’s (#15) DNF is dominating the media, but it’s not all bad news for the Americans… Fellow patriot, Andrew Short (#29) still has a shot at a solid finish, beginning the day’s race at 9th overall and finishing at 5th. Privateers, Garrett Poucher (#71) and Nathan Rafferty (#104) too have chances to end in Lima with positions to be proud of.

Today’s mixed starting lineup of the ten best cars and bikes, as well as five best trucks and quads, made for an exciting launch. But the buzz didn’t last for everyone. A hopeful to win Dakar in bikes, destiny had different plans for the California native, who suffered the same fearful fate as so many great racers this week have had to face: withdrawal. Reportedly, his bike had a malfunction at kilometer 56 bringing Brabec to his climactic, albeit uneventful, conclusion. But we need not worry about the young American, as he has made it out of Dakar with his health. SLOVNAFT Team pilot, Stefan Svitko (#11), however, was airlifted out of the racecourse after sustaining a head injury. His well-being is yet unknown, though his attitude on social media seems quite upbeat. And surprisingly, despite the very challenging specials recently, most of the racers appear to have the same attitude.

“Had to unzip the Gucci jersey on this one. Another tough day with bad fog, 40km of fesh-fesh waist deep, and super soft dunes. Two more to go!” – Privateer, Petr Angelo Vlcek #59, KLYMCIW Racing, CZE

Between 1979 and 2015, only four Americans have held stage wins in Bikes. Just three of which obtained more than one. Hell in 2015, the only US entrants were Antonio Narino (bikes); Robby Gordon, Johnny Campbell, Luiz Cesar Ramirez Jr. (cars)… That’s four people – and two of them were in the same vehicle! Not until the year following Ricky’s 2016 premiere at Dakar, did he manage to nab the next stage victory for the United States. To top that cupcake with a cherry, Brabec is now the only US citizen to lead the General Classification in a whopping 15 years! But the real fun fact: only two Americans in any class have ever led the Dakar Rally overall, to include motorsports legend Robby Gordon (#316). And now, Ricky Brabec. He even broke Gordon’s record, finding himself dominant over the pack for three separate days (Gordon only held it for two). Champion desert riders, Kurt Caselli and Jonah Street were latest to earn stage wins prior to Brabec, but neither were close to the top seed in the General Classification.

“It was a really hard day. There was nothing really positive about my day, especially for the race. The coolest part was getting a helicopter ride along the beach and back. It’s heart-wrenching. Not easy. We have to go home, take a break and come back. I’m at a loss for words. It was amazing to be on the top for the previous days. It’s really nice to have the team support me and the whole team. It felt like the vibes and the confidence in me were good. That helped me to achieve so many great days.” – Ricky Brabec #15, Monster Energy Honda Team, USA

Maybe, they won’t be playing Queen’s “We Are the Champions” as Brabec disembarks his airplane in Los Angeles, but he is no less a winner. Ricky’s fourth stint at the Dakar Rally was valiant – holding the overall position after three separate specials, two of them in a row, which hasn’t been accomplished by an American since… Well it’s never happened. Plus, the last time a Yankee won a stage before 2019, again, was Ricky in 2017. Caught up in the moment, it’s easy to see why America weeps. “We were so close!” rings out from the virtual highway. Plenty of disappointment pouring onto social media, filled with pity for their nation, frustration with Honda or even anger with the ASO. But sifting through the B.S. a bit, positive messages begin to emerge. We often forget is that for several long days, our “Golden Boy” – along with his colleagues – stare death straight in the eyes in the one of the most dangerous races in existence while being watched and scrutinized and pummeled by public opinion. It takes a strong mind and tough skin to take on that sort of pressure and come out the other side whole, let alone carrying with them a positive demeanor.

Today isn’t another loss for America, or even for Ricky. It’s he who has pioneered the path, so a new set of US competitors can dare to Dakar. Many of which are making names for themselves already. His performances over the last couple of years have given the country hopes for its first rally hero. And in the eighth special, he exited Dakar Stage Left, if not the hero we’ve always wanted, then the principle player we’d had all along.

KEY POINTS:

American Podium Finishes

  • 1992 – 2nd Danny LaPorte

  • 2000 – 3rd Jimmy Lewis

  • 2007 – 3rd Chris Blais

  • Like many others before him, Ricky Brabec once again fell afoul of the harsh laws of the Dakar. Almost exactly one year after having broken the engine on his Honda, the American once again was forced to exit the rally for the same reason, a heart-breaking blow for a rider who, up until that point, had ridden the perfect race and was dreaming of being the first representative of Uncle Sam to win the Dakar. Although he was not expected to do as well, the official HRC rider obtained another stage victory in 2019 and most impressively was leading the general standings three days from the finish. It is a crushing blow for Honda also, because on yet another occasion they will not have been able to bring the domination of KTM on the Dakar to a close. (Statement provided by the ASO.)

  • Matthias Walkner posted the best time to win the Super Ica special stage. The Austrian beat Pablo Quintanilla and Toby Price but remains behind his two rivals in the general standings. “Until the refueling, Toby caught up a lot of time on me. But in the dunes, I tried to push really hard in the morning. It was a really fast track with not really visible stones and I didn’t feel so good, but at the end I felt quite good and tried to push a lot”.

  • For the penultimate stage of the Dakar this year, the competitors will be tackling another loop in the region of Pisco, which is especially well endowed with dunes that have already caused plenty of damage, both in the ranks of the favorites and the amateurs. Now is not the time to crack, all the more so given that the mass start, by waves of 10 in the bike category and groups of 4 in the car race, will add a spectacular nuance to the battle that has been raging for 9 days… (Statement provided by the ASO.)

  • The new general standings leader at the best time possible, Toby Price will have to grit his teeth and bear it if he wants to remain so until the finish. The Australian is suffering from a sore wrist and will have team-mates Matthias Walkner and Sam Sunderland on his tail. The two men are likely to be merciless on the loop around Pisco, unless off course Pablo Quintanilla finally tastes success on the Dakar behind the handlebars of his Husqvarna! (Statement provided by the ASO.)

  • Chaleco López still leads the day’s special after 200 km. However, the Chilean is under pressure from Cristian Baumgart who trails by only 49 seconds! Reinaldo Varela has lost almost one hour.

Rankings of Americans after SS8

  • 5th Andrew Short #29 – 04h 05’ 16”; 5th in the General Classification

  • 23rd Garrett Poucher #71 – 04h 52’ 57”; 37th in the General Classification

  • 58th Nathan Rafferty #104 – 06h 48’ 20”; 52nd in the General Classification

  • DNF Skyler Howes #73

  • DNF Ricky Brabec #15

Top Ten Stage Finishers in Motorcycles

  • 1st Matthias Walkner #1 – 03h 55’ 25”; 3rd in the General Classification

  • 2nd Pablo Quintanilla #6 – 03h 56’ 10”; 2nd in the General Classification

  • 3rd Toby Price #3 – 03h 56’ 38”; 1st in the General Classification

  • 4th Andrew Short #29 – 04h 05’ 16”; 5th in the General Classification

  • 5th Adrien Van Beveren #4 – 04h 07’ 13”; 4th in the General Classification

  • 6th Luciano Benavides #77 – 04 08’ 16”; 7th in the General Classification

  • 7th Jose Ignacio Cornejo Florimo #10 – 04h 09’ 13”; 8th in the General Classification

  • 8th Kevin Benavides #47 – 04 10’ 32”; 14th in the General Classification

  • 9th Xavier de Soultrait #18 – 04h 11’ 15”; 6th in the General Classification

  • 10th Michael Metge #16 – 04h 14’ 36”; 24th in the General Classification

By Kyra Sacdalan, Justin W. Coffey. www.westx1000.com

Chris Glaspell

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