Dakar Rally 2016

These Are Your Americans

There are five Americans heading down to Bolivia and Argentina in January to compete in the 2016 Dakar rally. Here’s a quick interview with each that we grabbed at a recent event that Quinn Cody hosted to get a little more attention on this sport and these racers with US fans. Rally is like soccer – hugely popular outside of America, but not the top focus for most US fans right now.

Here’s a chance to meet the American racers. The 2016 event runs January 3rd to the 16th. Watch for updates here on dirtrider.com once the event has begun, and check your local NBCSN programming guide starting on January 4th for TV coverage of this year’s event.

ALEXANDER SMITH

Photo by Pete Peterson

Pete Peterson: How many rallies have you done so far?

Alexander Smith: One rally race has been my entire rally resume … the Moroccan rally in October of this year.

PP: What was the biggest surprise you learned during that rally?

AS: I think the biggest surprise was how fast the top five guys were going, and the difference in speed. The top five guys were on a different level, and then after that everybody else was still going pretty fast, but not even near what those top guys were doing.

PP: In your racing, have you done many timekeeping enduros?

AS: A lot of timekeeping enduros.

PP: And how did that experience help with navigating for rallies?

AS: Totally different. I don't even think I can compare the two. Timekeeping, especially with the modern computers, there's almost no thinking, you just look at the computer and ride. This is lots of thinking and lots of paying attention.

PP: Do you enjoy that aspect of the rally?

AS: Yeah, I do. I think it's cool. It's sometimes a little frustrating, like when you're trying to go fast and you make a little mistake and they kind of compound on one another. You make a mistake, you get frustrated, and you make another mistake, and you get frustrated – but I think it's much cooler doing a race where you have to think and go fast instead of just pin it and go fast.

PP: What was your best moment in the Moroccan rally?

AS: It was probably the whole last day. That was like the first time on the bike that I felt comfortable. The first four days I was uncomfortable on the bike, it was the first time riding it, it's really different. It was making me question why I was there, why I was riding motorcycles [laughs]. It was very humbling. The first two days were rough on me mentally, but then on the last day I was like, 'Oh, I got this.' I figured out how to go fast on the bike. So I think that was the best moment.

PP: Were you trying to get a similar practice bike before the rally?

AS: There's really no way to get a similar practice bike because those bikes are pretty on-off. I think they made eight of them this year. I knew going into Morocco why we were there – so I could ride the bike, so I could get used to rally. It wasn't like a race, it was practice.

PP: Did you plan to do more rallies in preparation for Dakar?

AS: No, it was always just going to be the one, and then Dakar.

PP: What's your goal for Dakar 2016?

AS: The primary goal is to just finish, secondary goal is to finish without any mechanicals or any crashes or anything like that. Then I guess the last goal would be to finish in a semi-respectable overall position.

PP: What's your goal for that?... Or are you-

AS: Yeah, I'm not saying anything yet.

Alexander’s main sponsors are Husqvarna, MSR, IMS, Motion Pro

Watch for updates to be posted at Malcolmsmithmotorsports.com

Photo by Pete Peterson

IAN BLYTHE

Pete Peterson: How many rallies have you done?

Ian Blythe: I’ve done two actual rallies, the Australasian Safari where I got third and the Baja Rally a couple months ago, and a long navigation enduro in Brazil.

PP: Did you feel ready last year for the Dakar, or it wasn't in the cards?

IB: I won a free entry at the Dakar Challenge at the Australasian Safari and it just wasn't in the cards to actually go. I was prepared, ready to go last year, but we couldn't pull the trigger on it. It just got bumped back to this year, so I'm just happy that it's happening.

PP: Do you get any benefit from that-

IB: No, if you don't use it you give it away.

PP: Did someone else at least get to use it?

IB: Yeah, this guy from Italy got it, and his bike burned down on like the third day. Like, burned down all the way.

PP: Of the two rallies and the navigation enduro, what's been your best moment?

IB: Best moment was probably winning the last stage of the Australasian Safari. It was rainy and long and a couple guys made some mistakes and I kept going and it was like I was finally racing instead of just trying to get through all the navigation.

PP: How much are you aware of the other guys out there?

IB: They're just another part of it. You look at them and see what they're doing and consider, 'Am I doing something obviously wrong and they're doing it right?' but you try to not think about them too much and just ride your own race. But if you're getting dusted out or getting passed [then] you're obviously riding with people, but you just try to ride your own race.

PP: Of those three events, what was your best finish overall?

IB: Third at the Australasian Safari.

PP: What's your goal for Dakar 2016?

IB: I just want to finish and finish strong and race the whole time. If I can do that I think I can be in the top 20.

PP: And the other events weren't nearly this long?

IB: No, the Australasian Safari was seven days. The navigation enduro was just four, and Baja Rally is just four.

PP: Are you riding to protect the bike a little bit?

IB: Yeah. Absolutely. It's rally, you just gotta get the bike there, that's the main part.

PP: What's the main thing you're protecting from, is it crash damage, wrecking an engine, what?

IB: In the Australasian Safari the team manager yelled at me because I was speed shifting, which is something I've always done. I just don't let off, hit the clutch, and shift, always. But he's like, 'No, in rally you let off and shift and go.' It was a totally different thing for me. And that got me thinking about it so now, I see something sketchy I'll just check up and roll through it. If I can see, I'll go fast. It's not like enduro where you've got to hit everything at 110%. In rally, if you can see, you can go fast, but if you can't you've really got to back it down and ride conservatively.

Ian’s main sponsors are Rally Pan AM, ICO, If You See Kay Wine, Craftsman and Klim

Watch for his updates on Facebook and Instagram @ianblythe

Photo by Pete Peterson

SCOTT BRIGHT

Pete Peterson: How many rallies have you done?

Scott Bright: I think I've done four official rallies. The first would be the Baja Rally 2014, I won that one first overall. The second rally would be the Cortez Rally this past spring, I finished second to Quinn Cody there. The next one would be the Mexican 1000, I finished third overall. And then I went to Sardinia, Italy for the FIM Rally there, and finished 22nd overall in the FIM Rally.

PP: Was there a problem in that Rally or just tougher competition?

SB: That was a world round, FIM, the top dogs, so I was pretty happy to finish that well.

PP: What's your goal going into Dakar 2016?

SB: My goal for Dakar 2016, number one is to finish. And a distant second after that is to have a really good finish.

PP: So what does 'really good' mean to you when you've podiumed three of your four rallies?

SB: I feel like inside of the top twenty five at Dakar would be a good finish for me.

PP: And of the rallies that you've already done, what was the best moment?

SB: The best moment was riding with Quinn and navigating first tracks through the course at the Cortez rally with Quinn. He and I were just going back and forth. He would make a nav mistake and I would pass him, I would make a nav mistake and he would pass me, and we would just go back and forth for miles and miles and miles, that was a blast.

PP: How hard is it for you to adapt to this navigation?

SB: It's not too bad. I caught on to the whole game pretty quickly. I get it. I don't have to practice it, so I feel pretty strong with my ability to navigate.

PP: Is there any comparison with a timekeeping enduro?

SB: My background in timekeeping enduros has helped a lot. Looking at a roll chart and figuring out where the checks are at, and where the turns are at, and riding heads-up, looking at your odometer, making sure that everything's correct all the way through, that has prepared me a lot for rally. I feel that's helped a lot.

Photo by Pete Peterson

PP: I noticed you have a wrist guard on. Can you tell me what injury you're recovering from?

SB: We were doing some rally training on my rally bike outside of Reno, about three months ago. I was riding this whoop section. The bike started swapping back and forth on me, I high sided, and went down pretty quickly and broke both my wrists and the backside of my forearm. So I had surgery on that pretty immediately to get things straightened out, I went about two months and a part of my left wrist wasn't healing right, so we went back in around the first of December, and got that adjusted and plated. So I will have about a month from that adjustment surgery before Dakar starts.

PP: How much bike time are you going to get before you're actually taking off on Day 1?

SB: Whatever bike time I can get in the parking lot in Buenos Aires, that's probably how much bike time I'll get.

PP: When was the last time you were on a bike?

SB: The day I crashed.

PP: And that was?...

SB: September 21st.

PP: So have you been training like a madman? What do you do since you can't ride?

SB: My wife is a personal trainer, and she's got me in her gym and on a stationary bicycle doing some conditioning. I feel like I'm going to be as strong as I can be for this and I'm not going to worry about the rest.

PP: What's good and what's bad about having your wife as your personal trainer?

SB: She knows my weaknesses and she just kills me over them. But that's good. It's bad because I can't fool her. And it's good because she brings those things to the surface and addresses them and we'll work through them. The tough part for me is I have a hard time listening to my wife when she gives me advice like that, whereas if someone else was giving that to me I'd probably take it a little bit easier.

PP: What percentage is that left wrist going to be at for Dakar?

SB: It's got a plate in there and I had [a doctor] do the second surgery and he thinks everything should be back to normal. I'll probably have a limitation in range of motion; hopefully it will be somewhere 50 to 80 percent range of motion. That's what I'm shooting for, that's what I hope to have.

Scott's team is Rally Pan Am (rallypanam.com), he has a website, too scottbright.net

Photo by Pete Peterson

CR GITTERE

Pete Peterson: How many rallies have you done?

CR Gittere: Just the Sonoran, last year.

PP: And how did you do?

CG: Miserable. I got into some whoops off the dry lake bed and just wadded myself into oblivion, so that was a bad, bad day.

PP: You come from road racing, did you always ride dirt bikes when you were road racing?

CG: Yeah, I grew up on a dirt bike. But I'm not a very good dirt bike rider in comparison to road racing. Road racing is easy for me. I got a road race bike, and I could just do it. Dirt bike riding is significantly more difficult for me. In 2008 Tim Morton invited me to come down to Baja and ride an XR650R, and I fell in love with desert racing and desert riding, because it's so fast compared to east coast stuff. It's just so much fun. So then in 2010 for my 40th birthday I tried to solo the 1000 – that didn't work out well. [laughs] And then I rode the 500 this year and Vegas to Reno this year.

PP: Do you think this kind of riding on dirt has a lot more in common with road racing than trail riding does?

CG: Absolutely. It's the speed that these rally bikes obtain that I think is very different than an enduro bike. I rode a KTM 500 EXC for the first time today... That thing is twitchy compared to a rally bike. You can get a rally bike up to 100 miles and hour in the desert and I'm like, 'eah…' It doesn't bother me, if I can get the chassis stable. So the speed, I think, is what attracts me.

PP: Throwing the navigation in, do you like that?

CG: Yeah. I did some rally training, and then I did the Sonora, and struggled with navigation in the Sonora. And then I went and hired Quinn Cody for four days, and we went around, and he has some road books in Barstow. And I learned more about rally navigation and about reading and identifying terrain in those four days than I had in all the time I'd pre-run for the 1000, and the 500, and Vegas to Reno, and weeks and weeks and weeks of riding out here by myself. I learned more from Quinn in four days, for sure. In my opinion if you're gonna want to learn how to navigate, go do a little bit of stuff, learn some stuff on your own, and then if Quinn will take you out – if – go spend the money and spend four days with him.

PP: How prepared do you feel for this year's Dakar?

CG: I don't know the answer to that question. I'm not trying to be a jerk, I don't know. I think I've done what I need to do. I've not done an ISDE or something like that, a multi day off-road race. I don't have a clue in my whole head. I hope I've done what I'm supposed to do. I don't know. I won't know until rest day, if I get that far – when I get that far. So it is one of the big unknowns for me. Like, if I look at the things I don't know, the terrain, one, because I've never been to South America. Two, I've never done a multi-day off-road race. I've done multi-day road races. I did it for ten years, AMA – Thursday promoter practice, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. Isle of Man TT – two weeks long, done it. This is a different deal here.

PP: Which is more scary, the Isle of Man or the thought of the Dakar Rally?

CG: I gotta answer that question in two parts. There is nothing in motorsports, bar none, that is as dangerous and as exciting to watch and as exciting to be a part of as the Isle of Man. Period. There's no denying that, and nothing that can end your life as quickly as the Isle of Man. You know that going in. So when I first came to the Nevada desert, and I was by myself, I was like, 'Okay, I'm going to ride over to Primm. By myself. From Pahrump. I'm just going to take off. That's a haul. It's fifty miles to the next road, to a paved road from some of the places that I'm at, and I'm out there by myself. So having done that for the last 90 days, I'm more comfortable going out into the desert with just what I have on me and my ability to get back, than I was when I first got here. So if you were to ask me that question in June, you'd probably get, 'Yeah, I'm kinda scared of being able to get myself back,' now I don't have that fear. So for me, the issues become managing my hydration and managing my food so that I don't expire from heat or cold or from the elements. I have no delusions that I think I'm going to go down there and do well. I'm not delusional. My goal is to get to Rest Day, and get to the finish. My goal is to finish. I'm not worried about getting run over by a car, because I have a Sentinel [a device that warns that another competitor is nearing you to pass], I'm not worried about getting run over by a 40 thousand pound truck – I'll get out of their way. I got experience in Baja and Vegas to Reno getting the hell out of Robbie Gordon's way. I hope he hits that Sentinel early, 'cause as soon as he sees me, I'll be out of his way. [Laughs] The fear of Dakar is nothing compared to TT, but if you asked me that six months ago I'd have given you a different answer.

PP: And is that a legitimate 'you're just going to be happy to finish'?

CG: Oh yeah. That's not just some [B.S.] quote, I'm not just [kidding] you. I have a three year deal for the Dakar. This is year one of three. So the first year is to go down and figure it out. Figure out what I did wrong, what I did right, what I've got to change for year two or three. So only to get to the end.

PP: So what's the goal for year three?

CG: Let's see how year one goes. [Laughs]

PP: Do you have some ideas right now where you want to be?

CG: No. I'm dead serious when I say you're not getting anything out of me other than I want to get to the end. And anybody that goes down there, that has my type of experience, my level of experience and says anything else is full of [garbage]. 50 or 60 guys are going out finish out of, they took 153. So anybody that goes down there and says, 'Yeah, I'm going to own Dakar!' They're full of [garbage], they're delusional.

PP: I'll be changing some of your words to amper–

CG: [laughs] Yeah, ampersands and pound signs. [laughs]

PP: Who are your sponsors for Dakar?

CG: Motobatt batteries, they're my title sponsor… Then we've got Service Manager Pro, and Powersports Data Solutions, which are companies that I own, and Speedmob out of the San Francisco area and he's got USWE and Airoh and Ariette goggles. Klim has been really, really good with gear, and Just1 came onboard with some of their helmets.

Photo by Pete Peterson

RICKY BRABEC

Pete Peterson: So how many rallies have you already done?

Ricky Brabec: I've done two rallies. One in Abu Dhabi and one in Argentina, the Ruta 40.

PP: In the Ruta 40, were you held back?

RB: In Argentina the terrain was a lot like home, so for me, I felt natural there. But I had a job to do and that was to help Paulo and Joan and Joan crashed out so then I had to step up and help Paulo. In the final stage I had to step up and follow Paulo the whole day and make sure he made it to the finish, because he was leading on time and physically. Technically my job was to make sure he made it to the finish line without any technical issues or any problems, so that's what I did. I wouldn't say I was held back just because that's what I was supposed to do, so I did my job.

Photo by Pete Peterson

PP: How good of a learning experience was that for leading a rally and seeing that? Breaking the course as the first guys?

RB: It was still difficult for me, even though I was following one of the best riders, because I wasn't just following. I was trying to follow him and keep his speed, but I was also trying to navigate and see if we were doing the right thing. I knew we were doing the right thing, but I was trying to see how he was doing it at that speed. I learned a little bit, but it's still pretty new to me there there's a lot to learn for sure.

PP: Of the two rallies, what was your best moment?

RB: Both of them were really, really cool. The experience alone of riding these bikes and navigating through the desert – there's no ribbon or arrows, we're just following our road book and our arrow [on the GPS screen] when our arrow pops up for the waypoints. But other than that the whole experience is really cool. I'm excited to go to Dakar and do a fourteen day experience.

PP: Quinn said you picked up the road book and the navigation pretty quickly. Did it come naturally to you?

RB: No, no, he's lying. [smiles] I may have picked it up pretty quick but I didn't pick it up quick at race speed. I figured out how to do it, but I definitely wasn't going as fast as I like to go. I got the concept of it pretty easily. It makes way more sense when it's on a bike and you're riding to figure it out rather than trying to look at it and understand it when you're not riding.

Photo by Pete Peterson

PP: So when you're out there, are you focusing on preserving the bike or are you going as fast as you can ride/navigate combined?

RB: I'm focusing on saving myself and the bike. You don't want to wear yourself out, definitely don't want to bike to break so you're left out there, and my job for Dakar is to keep the bike in tip top shape in case other guys need parts off my bike, so my job is to definitely keep the bike 100% as best I can for the whole rally, because there are marathon stages; they may need wheels, they may need my bars, my levers, they may need the navigation tower. They can need anything and I need to get there with the bike 100%. So my goal is to just finish each day with the least amount of mistakes I can make, and keeping the bike together.

PP: Are you going down to Dakar with orders to support like that?

RB: Oh, yeah, of course. I'm the helper, so I'm trying to help them. If they're pulled over with a broken part on their bike, or they need help with anything, my job is to make sure I can help them fix the problem, or if they need something off my bike my job is to give them the piece off my bike so they can keep going. Because Joan and Paulo are the top riders and they're obviously in shape and they have the speed and the talent and the brains to win this. My job is to make sure they don't get left out in the desert with a broken bike.

PP: Is that how it usually goes on the top team? To get into the Rally circuit on the top teams you come in and learn and help out?

RB: You definitely go in at the bottom and you have to work your way up to be the best. And it's not easy, but for me – being a water boy's what they call it – for me being a water boy, I'm totally fine with that. There's no way I can win the Dakar Rally right now. There's so much experience behind winning and I'm just learning, so being a water boy I'm going to learn more navigation, I'm going to learn how to read the road book, I'm going to learn how to work on bikes, and I'm just going to do the best I can.

PP: Do you have a goal of when that's going to be? Do you say, like, 'In 2018 I want to be the top guy?'

RB: Personally I don't have a goal, I want to be the top guy right now because I'm impatient. But it doesn't work like that, you gotta work your way up. Just like getting a new job when you're 16 years old. You start at the bottom and you gotta work your way up. I'm totally fine with that because I'm learning, I'm having fun doing it, and I've got great people behind me. Quinn and Johnny will help me whenever I need help, I can call them and ask them questions whenever I need to. So I have people who are willing to help me and I'm really excited.

Ricky's team is Honda HRC Rally http://rally.hondaracingcorporation.com/

For more on the event, which starts on January 3rd, 2016 and finishes on January 16th, go to Dakar.com, and in the US check your local NBCSN channel to see if you will have TV coverage in your area (look for it starting on Jan 4th at 5:30 PM).