THE DAKAR CHALLENGE (2013-2020)
On January 17, 2020, Ricky Brabec rewarded Monster Energy Honda Team with a long-awaited triumph in the Dakar Rally, eight years after the squad’s return to the grueling race
In 2013, after a 23-year absence, Honda officially returned to the Dakar Rally. They did so with a trio of team riders (Hélder Rodrigues, Javier Pizzolito, Johnny Campbell) and with an initial version of the Honda CRF450 RALLY which would, year after year, gradually evolve into a motorcycle renowned for its many qualities such as power and reliability. All three competitors made it to the finish-line with Portuguese Hélder Rodrigues, finishing in a well-deserved seventh overall position.
In 2014, now featuring Joan Barreda, Paulo Gonçalves, Hélder Rodrigues, Javier Pizzolito and Sam Sunderland, the team was able to demonstrate their full potential, winning various stages and jostling among the front runners in a bid for the final victory. Hélder Rodrigues went on to produce the best finish with fifth position in the general rankings.
In 2015 the team was joined by Laia Sanz and Jeremías Israel, who alongside Joan Barreda, Paulo Gonçalves and Hélder Rodrigues were to feature in numerous key moments of the race. Laia Sanz claimed the best ever Dakar result for a female rider, posting ninth overall position. Barreda fell victim to the notorious Uyuni salt flats. The star of the show instead turned out to be Paulo Gonçalves who finished runner-up.
The 2016 formation incorporated the young American promise Ricky Brabec as well as Frenchman Michael Metge and Italian Paolo Ceci, to fill out the ranks along with Barreda and Gonçalves, forming a homogeneous team which grabbed the limelight on numerous stages. It was, however, Kevin Benavides, a rider supported by Honda, who ended up in claiming fourth final place.
In 2017, the structure underwent a slight modification with the addition of Argentine star Kevin Benavides to an already solid team (Barreda, Gonçalves, Metge, Brabec), although in the end, the rider, who hails from Salta, Argentina would miss out on the event due to an untimely last gasp injury just a month prior to the race start. The rally’s rider with the most stage wins under his belt and still currently active, Joan Barreda, would post fifth overall position.
In the Dakar 2018, Paulo Gonçalves was forced to drop out at the last moment, leaving way for a young José Ignacio Cornejo to enter, who went on to make such a good impression that he was signed up to the official HRC factory team shortly after. In this edition, Kevin Benavides put his previous year’s absence behind him to go on to claim a brilliant runner-up position.
In 2019, the final Dakar in South America, Monster Energy Honda Team, featuring Kevin Benavides, Ricky Brabec, Joan Barreda, Paulo Gonçalves and José Ignacio Cornejo, proved to be the main protagonists, leading the rally over several days. As the odyssey drew to a close, Argentinean rider Benavides, finishing in fifth, was the best of the bunch.
With the arrival of 2020, so arrived the third chapter of the Dakar story, moving from South America to the Middle East, and Honda’s Dakar triumph. The team made up of Kevin Benavides, Joan Barreda, José Ignacio Cornejo, Aaron Maré and Ricky Brabec witnessed how the American excelled from day three and never let relinquished the overall first position. The Californian led right through to the end of the rally where he raised the coveted bronze Tuareg as winner of the Rally Dakar. It was January 17th 2020 in Qiddiyah, Saudi Arabia.