Dakar 2017 Update | Ricky Brabec Interview

JCR Honda rider Ricky Brabec Gets His First Stage Win At Dakar 2017

The pressure is high for the HRC Rally Team. Since Honda returned to the Dakar Rally with a factory team in 2013, the target of the Japanese giant is only one: winning. Honda doesn’t like losing and if in the first year the project was still young and the team lacked experience, now at their fifth attempt the expectations are high. “Dakar Rally is second only to MotoGP” said HRC Vice President Shuhei Nakamoto, in Valencia at the last MotoGP round. Nakamoto is expected to visit the rally in Salta, where Stage 8 finishes up and Stage 9 begins.

For Ricky Brabec, the Honda factory rider from Oak Hills, California, the pressure is double as he is the first one to put pressure on himself. Brabec finished ninth place overall in his debut year at the 2016 Dakar, and this year Ricky aims at improving his personal results. To achieve this, he prepared down to the last detail. From his physical training to an important support on the rally. Following Brabec’s request, Johnny Campbell was hired as riders’ coach and support from the road book preparation to the race strategy. The presence of the Baja King at the bivouac is crucial for an Italian and Spanish squad with Japanese Engineers. In addition, Campbell knows Ricky well, and he is a big supporter, “Ricky grew up riding in the desert of California and he has a special skill in reading the terrain” commented Campbell, “one of his strengths is that he knows how to ride within his limits. His tall and robust size plays in his favor, while his weak point is his inexperience as he has done one [previous] Dakar.”

Ricky Brabec
Ricky BrabecPhoto courtesy of Honda

We spoke with Ricky Brabec today on January 9th in Uyuni, at the end of stage 7 (La Paz – Uyuni), a shortened stage due to the bad weather with 161 km of timed section for a total of 801 km. It’s a special day for the American as he scored his first stage win. Second was his teammate Paulo Goncalves, at 1:44 behind, and the overall rally leader Sam Sunderland (KTM) in third on the stage (+4:43), with another of Brabec’s Honda HRC teammates Joan Barreda fourth at +6:51. The stage victory pays well after a difficult first week that saw all the Honda riders get a one hour penalty on stage 4 for having done refueling outside the riders’ route and in a not authorized area; it was a team’s mistake that penalized the efforts of the riders.

“To join an extreme rally like Dakar you have to be able to survive with little food, little energy and no sleep.”

- —Ricky Brabec

Thanks to the stage victory, Ricky Brabec recovered some important positions and lies currently in 14th position overall. Here’s an interview that tells more of Ricky’s story than the video caught you up with:

Maria Guidotti: First of all, congratulations. To whom do you dedicate this first win?

Ricky Brabec: "To myself! This is a great accomplishment for me and the team as this is only my second year on the Dakar."

MG: How do you feel?

RB: "I'm freezing cold because at kilometer 151 I crashed and ended up in the mud. I was wet and it was really cold in the last 240 kilometer of liaison. It was another tough stage with tricky navigation and off road tracks. There was sand at the beginning and from kilomter 140 to the finish it was all mud. I got lost a few times but I followed the cap and cleared the way points to the end. Now I want to get warm and get ready for another stage."

MG: Can you give us a summary of this first week of race?

RB: "It was a tough week. My target was to improve last year's result [9th], aiming at the top 5. I was riding really well and then, all the sudden, the team made a mistake on stage 4 and every Honda rider received 1 hour penalty, spoiling our race."

MG: What is your target now?

RB: "With the penalty we got, we dropped down in 29th place in the classification, so now the goal is to finish the rally and get to the top 10. Hopefully we don't make mistakes [all the way to] Buenos Aires."

Ricky Brabec
Ricky BrabecPhoto courtesy of Honda

MG: The race has covered so far 5,550 km out of the total 8,818 km. Do you find the Dakar as tough as it was announced to be by the organizers?

RB: "Compared to the last year, it's definitely much harder: the navigation is tricky, especially the new way point control. It doesn't show the arrow, so you have to make sure you found it before continuing your race. Regarding the route, we went through all kinds of difficulties; from the fast tracks and the high temperatures in the Chaco region in the north of Argentina to the navigated stages on the Bolivian plateau between 3,500 and 4,500 meters [between 11,500 to 14,700 feet!]. The heavy rain spoiled the race, [forcing] the organizers to reduce the length of stage 5 and cancel the 6th stage. Also stage 7 was reduced to 161 kilometers due to the bad weather. From stage 8 the race enters Argentina and the scenario will change again with hot temperatures."

MG: What is your approach to this unique two-week race?

RB: "Last year I had no idea about the road book and the navigation. Now I understand much more and it's fun to navigate. I only get angry with myself when I make a mistake.
The fast tracks are fun, they are more relaxing for everyone, while I can make the difference on the rocky paths and the river beds. On the contrary I struggle with the sand. Crossing the big dunes of Capricorno in the north of Argentina at 4,000 meters [13,100 feet] was really tough because the sand was wet but soft. The bike was down on power and it was very physically demanding. The key was to ride safe and not fall, because it's hard to pick up a heavy machine at that altitude."

MG: How do you cope with the altitude?

RB: "I'm fine. I live already at 4,300 feet so I'm used to it."

MG: What is special about Dakar?

RB: "Every day we discover a different terrain and we cross different countries, villages and cultures. The conditions are really extreme: we go through every different element that nature can offer: heat, rain, hailstorm, fog."

MG: What is the structure of the team? Do you have team order?

RB: "Every day we meet and decide what kind of strategy to use in the following stage. We help each other as a team."

MG: What is the position of Jonny Campbell in the team?

RB: "I race with JCR in California. To have a person from home on the Dakar with me is an asset. He has a lot of experience and we trained a lot together in preparation for this challenge."

MG: What advice did he give you?

RB: "He told me to be patient and to remember the lessons we did together. I know my potential, I don't have to override, which means to go fast when I'm comfortable and to control when I'm struggling. Another key is to respect the bike."

MG: On which kind of terrain do you feel more comfortable?

RB: "Definitely on the rocky paths and the fast track, while I struggle more on the dunes, because I don't have opportunity to train at home. I have improved this year since I raced in the Moroccan desert twice, at the Merzouga Rally in May and the Morocco Rally in October. This year we also did intense navigation and endurance training with Johnny Campbell, Barreda and Metge in the Mojave desert."

MG: What would you suggest to a guy who wants to race the Dakar rally?

RB: "Bring your own food, bring lots of riding gear and be mentally prepared. To join an extreme rally like Dakar you have to be able to survive with little food, little energy and no sleep."

MG: What is your typical day?

RB: "I wake up at 03:00 and take the starts at 4:00 / 04:30 am. Every day is a minimum eight hour ride, on some stages even 10 or 12 hours like on Stage 4... waking up so early and riding when it is still dark and freezing old is what I 'hate' of the Dakar!"