Desert-racing superstar Ricky Brabec was the lone American to contest the 39th edition of the legendary Dakar Rally. "It's a brutal race over 14 days," the Monster Energy Honda Team rider said prior to the start on January 2. "The weather is temperamental—one day you have hot and the next it's freezing. The biggest challenge is trying to improve on my ninth place from last year."

Ricky Brabec
Ricky BrabecMotorcyclist

For its ninth venture on Latin American soil, the Dakar Rally added a new country, Paraguay, to its list of previous hosts. The official entry list included some 216 vehicles, 146 of which were motorcycles. Organizers referred to Asuncion (Paraguay), La Paz (Bolivia), and Buenos Aires (Argentina) as the three Dakar "capitals." This year, the race entered what was described as a "fourth dimension"—altitude—between 11,800 and 13,100 feet above sea level. "Up there," Brabec said, "there's no oxygen. You try to push but you can't breathe."

Joan Barreda
Joan Barreda finished fifth and completed the event in the top 10.Motorcyclist

Honda’s four-rider factory effort included Paulo Gonçalves, Joan Barreda (11), Michael Metge (Kevin Benavides was injured during testing and did not start the race), and Brabec (9). Only Barreda and Gonçalves, fifth and sixth, respectively, completed the grueling event in the top 10 overall.

Dakar RallyMotorcyclist

Dakar Sporting Director Marc Coma explained the enhanced role navigation was expected to play in this year’s event. “This is Dakar DNA in its purest form,” he said. “We wanted to bring the essence of adventure back. There will be six stages with over 400 kilometers and a lot of sand. Seven of the 12 stages will test riders’ skills in the dunes. There will also be six stages above a 3,500-meter altitude and other ingredients in each country that will make it a tough race: heat and humidity in Paraguay, cold and altitude in Bolivia, and temperatures over 40 degrees [Celsius] in Argentina.”

Brabec (9)
Brabec (9)Motorcyclist

Heavy rain wrought havoc in Bolivia and northern Argentina. Stages 6 and 9 were canceled and Stages 5, 7, and 8 were cut short. The 25-year-old Brabec won Stage 7, galloping to the finish after “going swimming” on his Honda CRF450 Rally.

“These bikes are pretty slippery in the mud.”

Brabec’s Dakar ground to a halt at Stage 10.
Brabec’s Dakar ground to a halt at Stage 10.Motorcyclist

Brabec’s Dakar ground to a halt at Stage 10. “Early on, a tip-over damaged the motorcycle, but I went on to win the first ‘special,’” he said. “Then, 6 kilometers from the finish, the bike died on me. I called for some water, but they told me that it wasn’t safe for me to stop there and wait for a tow. They made me go to the helicopter to get a ride to the finish line, which was 6 or 7 kilometers from where I was. That was the end of my Dakar.” KTM swept the podium, with Brit Sam Sunderland taking top honors.