Words by Afzal Rawuther
The Dakar is finally upon us as the 2018 edition kicks off on 6th January in Lima. The Monster Energy Honda Team is all set with its five bikes and riders now done with scrutineering. The team will be hoping for a strong finish at the Dakar when it culminates in Cordoba.
With almost 9,000 kilometres to cover in the 40th edition of the Dakar, riders will speed their way across Peru, Bolivia and Argentina, starting out in the capital Lima, then on through La Paz to the final destination in Argentina’s auto industry capital, Córdoba.
Yesterday, the team made it through the administrative and technical checks prior to the start. The five Honda CRF450 RALLYs are now closed in the parc ferme awaiting the start of the Dakar. The Monster Energy Honda team will be aiming for an overall triumph this year after a very good last season. Joan Barreda is fully fit and recovered from the left-arm injury which delayed his Dakar preparations. Despite everything, Joan has had a blistering year with victory in the Baja Aragón and the Vegas to Reno race. Barreda is widely believed to be one of the favourites this year.
Kevin Benavides is also in fine form and arrives at the Dakar hungry to prove himself in this edition. Last year an untimely right wrist injury ruled the young Argentine rider from Salta out of the race. This year a fully-recovered Kevin has bounced back and proved to be unbeatable in the Desafío Ruta 40 and placed second in both the Atacama Rally and the Morocco Rally and posted an overall third spot in the Baja Inka.
American Ricky Brabec is another rider with a point to prove in the 2018 Dakar. After dominating the desert races in North America, he raised the trophy at the Sonora Rally and the Vegas to Reno before closing 2017 with a podium place in Morocco. Brabec, last year clinched his maiden Dakar stage win.
Michael Metge, meanwhile has done extremely well in the last year and continues to search for a top result. The Frenchman, as well as being a reliable point of support for team-mate Joan Barreda, awaits his shot at glory in the world’s greatest riding challenge.
Just when the team appeared to be in top form comes some gloomy news: Paulo Gonçalves has had to drop out of the 2018 Dakar Rally. The Portuguese rider suffered a mishap in training a few weeks before heading out to Lima, injuring his right shoulder and left knee in the process. The team stalwart, who hails from Esposende, Portugal received immediate medical treatment in the hope of making a recovery for the race-start, but unfortunately shortly after the team passed the final checks, the valiant Portuguese rider was forced to renounce his place in Lima this coming Saturday. His place will be occupied by the young Chilean rider José Ignacio Cornejo ‘Nacho’,23, who was the FIM Junior World Cross-Country Rallies Champion in 2016.