The Dakar rally no longer runs anywhere near the city in Senegal that gave it its name, but it is just as brutal on competitors and machinery in its new South American home. Off-road racers and rally drivers/riders who have easily conquered events like the Baja 1000 are often humbled and humiliated by this two week long test of endurance. Ricky Brabec is one of those riders, growing up riding BMX bicycles in San Bernardino, CA, before moving up to motorcycles, the 27 year old American Honda factory rider has won in Baja and first came to the Dakar race in 2016 looking for new challenges. Going into the rest day he leads the bikes by nearly a full minute, and the closest car (Sebastian Loeb) by nearly 45.
All the so called "Adventure Touring" bikes now so popular can trace their linage to the crazy dirt bikes originally built to compete in the Paris-Dakar in the early 1980s, notably the BMW GS series. In an attempt to slow things down and not embarrass the cars, as well as in the interest of safety, riders are now limited to 450cc singles, typically based on motocross or enduro machinery. All the big Japanese makers are there, and of course KTM and Husqvarna, but in eleventh place is the Indian TVS Racing team, and Hero is in twelveth. Despite being limited to 450cc singles, watch any coverage of a rally stage and you'll see that these bikes spend considerable time running flat out at triple digit speeds across open country.
Ricky Brabec had a good day on stage 1 on Monday, finishing the day in third place, and a better day on Tuesday, missing the win by just 22 seconds to last year's winner Matthias Walkner on a KTM. Both of these riders had a bad day on Wednesday though, loosing 20 minutes and finishing out of the top ten. Thursday was Brabec's day though and he won the stage by more than six minutes, which gave him the overall lead. Ricky came off while in the huge dunes that makes this rally so picturesque, finishing the stage in twelveth, but still leading overall.
We will bring you an overall wrap-up next weekend.