Ricky Brabec Dakar 2020 Interview

Will 2020 be the American’s year to win the legendary rally?

Monster Energy Honda’s Ricky Brabec has his sights on a Dakar win in 2020—a win that would make him the first American winner of the legendary rally.
Monster Energy Honda’s Ricky Brabec has his sights on a Dakar win in 2020—a win that would make him the first American winner of the legendary rally.Honda Racing

We left Ricky Brabec last January in Peru when his Honda CRF450 Rally suddenly stopped on the eighth stage of the Dakar Rally. The factory Monster Energy Honda rider was devastated when an engine failure while leading the last stage of the rally destroyed his dream of becoming the first American to win Dakar. The race was over but Ricky proved to himself and the Dakar circus to be one of the clear favorites. One year later, he returns stronger than ever—exactly as he promised. From the California desert to the Saudi Empty Quarter, the Monster Energy Honda rider is determined to shine in the most important race of the year.

At the end of Stage 2 Brabec is sitting in fifth place, 4 minutes and 11 seconds down to the KTM of Brit Sam Sunderland. With 10 stages remaining, Brabec’s fortune can swing either way, but the American is determined to move to the front.

Last year you were the true revelation of the Dakar; you showed an incredible determination from day one, you won one stage, and you were leading. Did this change the relations in the team?

Since I led the stage and won, the team seemed to be in a little shock as it was unexpected, like they didn’t really believe I could be in that position. I have never felt the team backed me 100 percent, but after I proved I could lead, things got a little easier.

You were close to becoming the first American to win Dakar, how close were you to nurturing this dream?

My dream was becoming a reality leading Dakar, but as quickly as it came, it was shattered and taken away.

How are you facing this year’s challenge?

Last year I gained more confidence when I won a stage and I was leading the rally. All the training and discipline were finally paying off.

We left you last year on Stage 8 when your Honda’s engine suddenly stopped. If you think back to that moment, what do you feel?

Going back to that moment is something I wish I can forget. But I cannot. I can only use it to boost my determination—to power forward, work hard, and put myself in the position to win the 2020 Dakar.

How difficult is it to overcome this big disappointment?

I don’t think that disappointment will go away until I finally win Dakar. It fuels my fire to push myself to the maximum to win!

Have you changed anything in your preparation for this year?

I haven’t really changed anything but just refined my craft, spending lots of time training on the bike with Jimmy Lewis and Johnny Campbell. They are my mentors and have a lot of knowledge to share. They help me work on navigation drills and mental toughness. I don’t like the stress of some of the training, but I know it will pay off when the going gets tough.

On paper there won’t be any team orders—how do you feel about that?

Team orders don’t usually come into play until the rally gets settled in a few days. For me, I’m going there to win. That’s what I’m paid to do.

People say no one returns from Dakar the same. What have you learned? How have you changed?

Dakar hardens the competitor, but also builds humility. To race rally you have to be tough and have the character to survive. Dakar will test the human spirit to the fullest. I am going back to Dakar this year a year more mature, and hungry to win.

Humility, toughness, and character—three qualities Brabec says are essential for winning the Dakar Rally.
Humility, toughness, and character—three qualities Brabec says are essential for winning the Dakar Rally.Honda Racing

Where did you inherit the passion for off-road racing?

My dad introduced me to off-road racing. I grew up riding and racing in the Southern California desert. There is a large community here that rides. It’s a blast to be able to have the whole desert straight from your front door. My first memory as a child is in fact riding and camping in the desert with my family.

What is the scariest thing you have ever done?

Racing through the dunes for the first time in Abu Dhabi. Those guys were so fast—like full gas and launching off dunes like knuckleheads!

What is your greatest fear?

My greatest fear is not winning. I work so hard throughout the whole year to be the best, and I don’t want to fail myself or Honda.

What is the limit for you?

The limit for me is unknown. I want to win Dakar, after that then maybe I’ll have limit.

Brabec wants to cross winning the Dakar Rally off of his racing to-do list.
Brabec wants to cross winning the Dakar Rally off of his racing to-do list.Honda Racing

If you could choose a superpower, what would it be?

Superpower? I think I would want X-ray vision to see through every obstacle and blind corner.

What is the best recipe to win Dakar?

The best recipe to win Dakar is to have a solid team and bike. I feel more comfortable now that I have more Americans around me—the right ones: Hide, Norman, Campbell, and Lewis. It builds confidence in myself knowing these guys are behind me 100 percent. We have done massive amounts of testing, and I love my bike. It’s time to win.

What do these words mean to you: fun, adventure, failure, and dust?

Fun is riding in wet dirt in my local hills with a group of buddies.

Adventure is the Dakar.

Failure is behind me.

Dust is what I will be making for others to eat in the Dakar!