Dakar 2019: The calm before the storm

The big favourites – KTM and Honda bikers, Mini and Toyota drivers and Kamaz truckers – are scheduled to go through administrative and technical scrutineering tomorrow, but their rivals already faced the microphones and cameras today. Honda, with Joan Barreda and Kevin Benavides, and Gerard de Rooy, who is back behind the wheel of his Iveco, are itching to take the fight to them. Robby Gordon, another serious outsider, will go through scrutineering tomorrow after an ill-timed setback.

The majority of the SxS favourites went through the procedure today, including American whiz kid Casey Currie, who will fight for a top place against illustrious veterans of the quad and motorbike categories who have switched classes this year.

The contenders have entered the stage. There are just two days left until the start of the rally and the outsiders of the 41st edition of the Dakar are making no secret of their burning ambitions.

In a sports competition there are always fewer prizes than competitors, and nowhere is this more obvious than in the resolve of all the participants who are here to start a revolution! Gerard de Rooy – back after sitting out last year’s edition – and his lieutenants are among the rebels in the truck category.

The Dutchman remains the only driver to beat Kamaz ever since the rally moved to South America and is outspoken about his ambition to repeat the exploit.

“I love sand and dunes, it’s what I like best and winning is our only objective. I don’t mind what crew it is, I just want to see one of our green trucks at the top”, he says enthusiastically after returning to Peru hungry for more titles, no doubt remembering how he took his first victory precisely in Lima, in 2012.

Meanwhile, on the Russian front, defending champion Eduard Nikolayev elegantly assumes his favourite status in what is a very competitive field: “I know it’s going to be even harder, but it’s more exciting for us to have a suspenseful, dramatic race. That doesn’t mean we’re scared!”

The motorbike field is also bursting with ambition, especially among the red-clad Honda bikers.

The Japanese team finished just one step below the top of the podium in two of the last four editions, first with Paulo Gonçalves in 2015 and then with Kevin Benavides in 2018.

The Portuguese rider seems unlikely to lead the charge, but he considers it “a victory to be here at the start” after undergoing surgery for an injured spleen about a month ago. In contrast, the Argentinian feels “100% ready to ride at the front”, while the third prong of the Honda trident, Joan Barreda, appears composed enough to neutralise the curse that always strikes right when he seems untouchable.

At any rate, the team’s new special adviser, former rider Hélder Rodrigues (third in 2011 and 2012), is adamant that there will be a Honda rider on top of the podium in Lima on 17 January: “This is our year!” Robby Gordon’s return to the Dakar was supposed to be the story of the day in the car category.

The American has had his fair share of bad luck, but he could have done without a setback that has disrupted his comeback after a three-year absence. The ship on which his assistance truck was travelling from the United States came in late, forcing Gordon to delay the final tweaks to his vehicle.

Despite working with his mechanics around the clock, he failed to make it to his scrutineering appointment. Packed with cutting-edge tech, the mechanics of the American’s latest Textron take quite a bit of expertise to understand.

In the end, Gordon was granted some extra time to apply the final touches to this car with due care… so he will come across his former Mini and Toyota rivals tomorrow in the scrutineering area.

Casey Currie, a rising star of American off-road racing brought up under Gordon’s wing, is making his Dakar debut determined to “do whatever I can to get ourselves up in the front” in the SxS class, a rapidly growing category where betting on the winner is a mug’s game.

He will be facing hardened veterans such as former quad champions Ignacio Casale and Sergey Karyakin, as well as former bikers “Chaleco” López and Gerard Farrés.

The Spaniard has already started to shine in his first season in the category, with results including second place in the Rally of Morocco. And it was just the beginning!

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