ON THE RECORD: Johnny Campbell

Baja 1000 king is set to compete in the world’s toughest rally as Robby Gordon’s co-driver in a “Gordini.”

Johnny Campbell and Robby Gordon

Robby Gordon is fond of saying that the Dakar Rally is like competing in 13 Daytona 500s or Indianapolis 500s on consecutive days. I haven't competed in those races, but I can say that the Dakar is like racing the Baja 500 or 1000 every day for two weeks.

My job is to interpret the road book and relay that to Robby during the race, giving him directions and warning about dangers. In Baja, you can compete as a solo driver and win the race. Dakar is different; you must work as a team. It's not like any other type of racing.

To put it all together, to be at the start and the finish, is the challenge.

My Dakar debut dates back to 2001, when the race was still in Africa. I went to Dakar to discover new cultures and the dunes, and that in itself was an amazing journey. I was able to finish eighth.

Africa was very remote. It was about surviving. We slept in tents under the stars. In South America, where the rally moved in 2009, the race has evolved, and you have more comfort features. It makes it easier, but the Dakar remains the ultimate challenge.

Americans Robby Gordon and co-driver Johnny Campbell

After that experience, I focused on my Baja program. I did a good job, and I have no regrets, but I was really happy to be part of the Honda squad in 2013 when the factory returned to the Dakar after a 23-year absence.

In 2012, Robby asked me to by his co-driver. It was a great way to experience the Dakar again. He is a phenomenal driver and a charismatic and incredibly gifted person.

Doing the Dakar with Robby in the Hummer was one the highlights of my career. I remember the Iquique stage in Chile. I knew that the big dunes—1,000 meters high—were coming. Once we crossed the top, it was like the biggest first hill on a rollercoaster. It was scary, but Robby didn't hesitate. He went wide open all the way down to the ocean, where the bivouac was located. I think we hit 136 mph. Unbelievable.

Robby has been doing the Dakar for over a decade. He has the passion to win. I also have a dream to win the Dakar. Now that I am 43 year old, it is physically impossible for me to do it on a motorcycle, but this is the way that I can break into the next stage of my career on four wheels, whether it is driving or navigating.

Johnny Campbell with the Gordini

Being the only American team in the Dakar adds extra pressure. We really want to do well for our country. There will be many people watching, and hopefully this will bring more US teams to the Dakar.

Robby and his team did a lot of testing in the desert this past the summer. They built a new car, the "Gordini," based on a Stadium Super Truck platform. The Gordini is a supercar, but it can do more than a Ferrari or a Lamborghini because it will run on any terrain. When they stop, we turn right and hit the dirt.

I have the experience to navigate for a win in the Dakar. I nearly won one stage on a bike, and with the experience of this team, I think it is possible that we can make a breakthrough.

Our goal is to win the race, not just stages. We want to be on the top of the podium.

Johnny Campbell and Robby Gordon.

Americans Robby Gordon and co-driver Johnny Campbell.

Johnny Campbell with the "Gordini."