Honda wins the Dakar Rally (2020)
A New Era for the Dakar Rally
2020 marked the beginning of a new era in the long history of the Dakar Rally.
The stage was moved from South America to Saudi Arabia, changing the character of the event completely. The race started from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia’s second largest city, and took competitors through the country’s capital Riyadh towards Al Qiddiya. Three-quarters of the distance was over grueling desert terrain.
As a new endeavor, 2020 saw the introduction of the Super Marathon stage, in which staff, including teammates, were banned from working on the bikes outdoors.
Five riders on their CRF450 RALLY bikes represented Monster Energy Honda Team in the 2020 edition: Kevin Benavides, Ricky Brabec, Joan Barreda, Jose Ignacio Cornejo, and in his first Dakar, Aaron Maré.
CRF450 RALLY Shines in Stage 3
Day 1 took riders over scree and sand, complicated further by a choice of possible routes. Although Maré had started his first Dakar with a fall, Brabec finished the stage second, and Benavides was fourth. The team as a whole was well positioned for the Super Marathon stage the following day. Maré was unable to compete in Stage 2 due to injuries sustained when he fell on a rocky surface, and was forced to retire. Barreda‘s start was not much better, as he fell and aggravated a month-old torso injury.
In the second day of the Super Marathon, Stage 3, the CRF450 RALLY really shone. Monster Energy Honda Team’s Brabec, Cornejo and Benavides dominated the top three spots, with Brabec taking the overall lead.
The CRF450 RALLYs continued their unstoppable charge in Stage 4 the following day, a high-speed route over sand and rocks, with Cornejo winning, and Benavides second. Brabec was fifth, still in the overall lead.
Stage 6 took riders over pure desert terrain. Ricky Brabec gained his second stage win here, keeping his lead intact with a buffer of more than 20 minutes. Benavides, who had a good run until this point, ran into mechanical issues, and despite brave efforts to complete the stage, loses a fair number of places.
Victory, After Overcoming a Grueling Race
Following rest day in the capital city Riyadh, the second half of the rally began. Stage 7 included the longest special stage of the race, covering 546km, over endless dunes and demanding tracks. Benavides, overcoming his mechanical problems in Stage 6, won the stage. Barreda was second and Brabec fifth, keeping Honda’s overall lead intact.
Stage 7 was not all celebrations for the team, as Paulo Goncalves, Honda rider until 2019, died in a tragic accident. Stage 8 was canceled.
Monster Energy Honda Team riders continued to perform well throughout the closing stages. In the marathon Stage 10, although the second half was canceled due to strong winds, Barreda, Brabec and Benavides maintained their pace in the shortened special stage, taking the top three spots. The start of Stage 11, the second half of the marathon stage, took riders over what is regarded as the most beautiful dunes in Saudi Arabia. The magnificent dunes covering a distance of 100km were, nonetheless, a serious challenge for the riders.
Despite the demanding terrain, Cornejo rode his CRF450 RALLY to fourth place, a mere three minutes from the stage winner. Benavides, Brabec, and Barreda also safely reached the finish in Haradh. Brabec’s performance was good enough for him to keep the overall lead.
The finale, Stage 12, saw Brabec keep up the pace from the beginning, giving him second for the stage, behind Cornejo. Monster Energy Honda Team was rewarded, by winning the Dakar 2020.
Aiming to Dominate the New Era, and Defend the Title
Monster Energy Honda Team‘s ace rider Ricky Brabec took the lead in Stage 3, and never looked back, winning the Dakar 2020. He became the first American rider in history to win the world’s most grueling and tough rally.
30 years since Honda last won the Dakar Rally, and eight years since returning to the event, Monster Energy Honda Team had won.
Honda aims to dominate the new era, and defend its Dakar crown in 2021.