For the First Time, an American Has Won the Paris-Dakar Rally

If you really want to prove how good your off-road vehicle is, you take it rallying. Porsche proved its Cayenne in the Transsyberia Rally; Ford, Honda, and SCG duked it out in Baja for similar reasons. Lancia and Audi achieved fame at the World Rally Championship. But for most of the world, the most grueling race in the world is the Paris-Dakar Rally.

1987 Nissan Patrol Paris-Dakar rally car
1987 Nissan Patrol Paris-Dakar rally car | Nissan

Although it no longer races through Africa, the Paris-Dakar has helped refine and sell many off-roaders. Mitsubishi’s Pajero/Montero has won 12 times; even Fiat competed with its Panda hatchback. But cars and SUVs aren’t the only eligible competitors. Trucks like the Unimog have raced and won, as have motorcycles like the Honda Africa Twin. Every year, teams with members from all across the globe gather to try and win. But in 42 years of the Paris-Dakar, no American has ever won. Until now.

How Ricky Brabec made Paris-Dakar Rally history

The 2020 Paris-Dakar Rally isn’t Ricky Brabec’s first. According to Jalopnik, it’s actually his fifth, though it’s only the second time he’s ever finished the race.

But considering racers compete over almost 4,700 miles of scorching desert sand—and other, more treacherous terrain—simply finishing is a huge accomplishment. Nissan’s Patrol, for instance, never won higher than 9th place, but it still has an enormous fanbase.

Other Americans have come close. Veteran NASCAR racer Robby Gordon competed in the car class multiple times, including this year, but was never able to finish better than 3rd overall. Brabec’s trainer Jimmy Lewis also raced, finishing 3rd in 2000.

Last year, Brabec came fairly close to winning the race, too. He was the Stage 1 (of 12 total) winner, but his engine failed during Stage 8, and he had to bow out. This year, however, Cycle World reported that he took the lead from Stage 3, and kept it all the way through the rally.

And it’s not like his competition was taking it easy.

Americans won in other classes

Two-time Formula 1 champion Fernando Alonso was competing in the car class, according to Autoweek. Paris-Dakar veteran Carlos Sainz was also competing; he’s won multiple WRC championships and Paris-Dakars. This year, he and his co-driver Lucas Cruz did win their class, competing in a Mini, but they didn’t win outright. They were roughly an hour behind Brabec.

Finishing just behind Brabec, however, were fellow Americans Casey Currie and Sean Berriman.

Driving a Can-Am Maverick ATV, they won their class, making Currie a 3-time Paris-Dakar winner.

This is also a big win for Honda

2020 Paris-Dakar Rally winner Ricky Brabec
2020 Paris-Dakar Rally winner Ricky Brabec | Honda

While Currie and Berriman raced with Can-Am, Brabec raced as part of the Honda Monster Energy Team, on a specially-prepped Honda CRF450. And while you can’t get exactly his bike, the racing CRF450 is something anyone can buy from a Honda motorcycle dealer.

2020 Honda CRF450R WE
2020 Honda CRF450R WE | Honda

In winning this year’s rally, Brabec also broke a bit of a stranglehold. This is the first time Honda has won the Paris-Dakar in 31 years. The last time was in 1989, with Gilles Lalay riding the original Honda Africa Twin. As of now, Honda has won the Paris-Dakar Rally 6 times.

2020 Paris-Dakar Rally podium
2020 Paris-Dakar Rally podium | Honda

Brabec’s win also meant this was the first time Austrian bike manufacturer KTM didn’t win in 18 years. The KTM team did place on the podium this year, with factory rider Toby Price coming in 3rd, about 24 minutes behind Brabec’s time. Husqvarna placed 2nd, Rockstar Energy Husqvarna racer Pablo Quintanilla finishing 8 minutes ahead of Price.

There was one big loss at the Paris-Dakar this year

Sadly, this year’s Paris-Dakar has also been marked by tragedy.

As Jalopnik reported, rally veteran Paulo Gonçalves fell from his Hero motorcycle on January 12th. He reportedly entered cardiac arrest and was unconscious when the medevac arrived. Despite efforts to resuscitate him, the Portuguese motorcyclist was pronounced dead at nearby Layla Hospital. Deaths at the Paris-Dakar aren’t unheard-of, though this is the first death at the rally since Polish racer Michal Henrik’s death in 2015.

In his interview with Cycle World, Brabec expressed his sorrow at Gonçalves’ passing and dedicated his win to the Portuguese racer. Brabec also thanked the rally organizers for canceling Stage 8, to allow the motorcyclists and quad racers to mourn.

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