The 38th edition of the Dakar ended in Rosario, Argentina, on January 16, with Toby Price (KTM) winning the bike category, and Stephane Peterhansel in the cars (Peugeot) wrapping up his 12th victory (six on Yamahas in the bike category and now six in cars). Price is the first Australian to ever win Dakar; the 28-year old KTM factory rider is the new face the Rally was looking for, a successor to five-time winner Marc Coma who is the new Sports Director of the event.
DAKAR RALLY: Ricky Brabec Interview
With his Team HRC Rally debut, Ricky Brabec is the new face of the American rally scene.
Third last year on his debut, Price set another record: even Mr. Dakar (as Peterhansel is known), could claim his first bike win on his second attempt. One of the favourites at the start, Price managed the race perfectly and claimed victory at the end.
The rider may have been new, but the bike was essentially the same. Unbeaten since 2001, KTM placed three bikes on the podium. Alongside Price on the factory machine, Stefan Svitko was second on a private KTM, and Pablo Quintanilla was third on his Husqvarna, which is an almost identical machine.
Almost 60 percent of the vehicles survived to the finish line after 14 race days and 5810 miles, including four out of the five Americans, all of whom were rookies. The one withdrawal was Carroll Gitterel on stage 10, who had to be airlifted after getting ill on the stage.
Leading the American cause was factory Honda rider Ricky Brabec, who was one of the revelations of the 2016 Dakar with a superb 9th place overall and the leading Honda from the factory team. “Dakar is like racing a Baja 1000 every day for two weeks,” said Brabec. “The effort required from the rider and the team is unbelievable. It’s not only the racing, you need to save your energy and preserve the bikes, especially in the marathon stages where you cannot count on the team for assistance. It was such an adventure and it was great to share it with the Honda Team. I’ve got my medal and now I’m already thinking of coming back and doing better.”
While Brabec put up a strong performance, the other three finishing Yanks impressed as well, with Ico Racing/Rally Pan Am duo of Ian Blythe and Scott Bright respectively 26th and 53rd. In 37th was Alexander Smith.
The son of the off-road legend Malcolm Smith, followed the advice from his famous dad and finished the race without a single crash. “Dad told me, ‘don’t ride in the dust and be safe!’’ “I followed his advice and finished without any incidents. It’s kind of surreal being at the finish line in Rosario, it will take a couple of days to realize it. I did well and I’m really happy. Any doubts? Before the start, yes, I was worried that it could have been too tough for me. But once we started, I had no doubt that I was going to finish.”
Alex fell in love with the Dakar listening to stories from Malcolm, when the race was still in Africa. “I was four when dad did his last Dakar in Africa. He came back with amazing stories and beautiful photos of the dunes. At that time the race was a true challenge. You were really on your own. I was attracted by the feeling of risk. In a way, today there is less adventure, but it’s also the sign of our time. We are never alone, never disconnected. We have GPS, satellite phones. I’m not a professional racer, I’m here to enjoy it. The HT Husqvarna team was really professional and I had a lot of fun.”