The 2016 version of the Dakar Rally begins Saturday, January 2nd with a total of 153 motorcycle riders scheduled to begin the event, of which five are Americans. Just who are these American riders? Learn a little about each rider in the excerpts below taken from the Dakar.com website and get ready to cheer on these riders as they take on the Dakar challenge.
Rider No. 48
Team HRC / CRF450 Rally Honda
In close to 40 years of Dakar history, only two Americans [Editor's Note: actually three] have managed to finish on the podium of the rally: Danny Laporte in 1992, Jimmy Lewis in 2000 [Editor's Note: and Chris Blais in 2007]. Many have tried to do as well as their elders, managing to capture stage wins like Jonah Street or Kurt Caselli, but never quite achieving the same level of success as Laporte or Lewis [or Blais]. The latest US wonder kid to show up on the Dakar will be Ricky Brabec. At only 24 years of age, the Californian has already captured the three most prestigious titles in U.S. desert racing: Hare & Hound, Best in the Desert and SCORE, thanks to triumphs in the Baja 1000, Baja 500 and San Felipe 250. And it wasn't really a surprise when the HRC team turned to him for the Dakar. Brabec will indeed be competing on one of the best bikes of the field and will have at his side references such as Paulo Gonçalves and Joan Barreda. It certainly is too early to tell if Brabec will do better than Lewis and Laporte, especially on his debut in the Dakar, but he has all the qualities and support to become a Dakar great.
“I actually don't know much about the Dakar. I still can't believe that I'm going. I spoke to Quinn Cody about it. He tells me how tough it is and how cold or hot it gets. And there's the navigation… It's 15 days of racing and that's a concern. I know I just have to take time. I have to ride at 75% and focus on navigation. I've done a lot of road-book training. I spent a month in Europe with the HRC guys. Concerning my ambitions, it's hard to tell. I'm going there to learn. I just hope I can make the team happy. I don't know what to expect. It's totally different to the Baja 1000 for example. I'm kind of nervous but I can't be too nervous.” ~ Ricky Brabec
Rider No. 103
Team HT Husqvarna Rally Raid / 450 Rally Husqvarna
Out of the many promising newcomers on the Dakar, one should certainly keep an eye on Alexander Smith. Not only is he the son of Malcolm Smith, a legend in US off-road racing (6 Baja 1000 wins) as well as an actor alongside Steve McQueen in the bike documentary On Any Sunday, and 4th of the Dakar in 1988 in a range Rover. He's also a very fast and competitive rider. Alex will be discovering the rally at age 30 and will be part of the HT Husqvarna Rally Raid squad. Several time winner of the Baja 1000 in the Ironman class (solo), He knows he'll have to adapt to the Dakar and would be devastated not to finish it.
“The last time my dad did the Dakar, I was 3 or 4. I still remember his stories and the pictures from that time. I still have in mind his yellow Range Rover. I show up on the Dakar having heard my dad's stories and having spoken to guys like Chris Blais or the regretted Elmer Symons. After competing on the Baja 1000 in 2013, I really started to consider coming. It was the next step up for me. I really started talking about it two years ago. And then a year ago, Quinn Cody came to me and helped a lot. The Dakar is the pinnacle of dream races. Neither of my parents are too excited about me going to the Dakar. Dad know's what it's like and he's pretty nervous. He'll be with me on the rally. My main concern is having an issue that would stop me. I'd be devastated if I didn't finish. I've raced the Baja 1000 in the ironman class so I'm not too worried about the long distances. The long days are not a problem. We have a home in Colorado, so I spent a lot of time there adapting to the altitude issue. But the way I prepared really changed after doing the Morocco rally. It was different to what I was expecting. The speeds are much higher than I thought. I wasn't happy with my showing (21st) but I was happy to have made mistakes over there rather than on the Dakar. It was a great learning experience.” ~ Alexander Smith
Rider No. 105
Team ICO Racing / Rally Pan AM / 450 RR KTM
Perseverance is a perfect word to describe Scott Bright's journey to the Dakar. It indeed took him three years to be finally able to take on the toughest rally in the world. Three years to find financial funding and to get physically ready for the event. An experienced enduro specialist, the American will be competing with a young man he saw grow up to become a fine rider: Ian Blythe. Perseverance is what he'll focus on during the two weeks of the Dakar to eventually reach the finish line in Rosario. Scott will be able to count on the support of his wife and two children, based in Colorado. They too are motorbike fanatics.
“I've been following the Dakar for a long time. Ned Suesse who competed on the Dakar in 2012 really gave me the idea to go. So I put the pieces into place and developed the Rally Pan Am team while training and looking for sponsors. It took me three years but we're there. I competed in events in Mexico to get prepared and trained in California and Nevada. I'm expecting very long days and real navigational challenges. Perseverance is what gets you to the finish. That's the goal: to finish. Then we'll see. I'm anxious to see how I can physically and mentally hold up. I have a strong relationship with Ian Blythe. I used to race with his father. I mastered him. When I worked for KTM North America, he was my rider. He's very talented. We'll help each other out when we can but there won't be any sacrifices for one another. I just hope we both make it to the finish.” ~ Scott Bright
Rider No. 106
Team ICO Racing / Rally Pan AM / 450 RR KTM
A pure enduro specialist, Ian Blythe will finally get a chance to take on the Dakar this year. The American indeed won the Dakar Challenge (free entry to the Dakar) during the 2014 Australasian Safari where he finished 3rd, but for financial reasons couldn't start last year's edition. Backed by KTM and the Rally Pan Am team, Blythe will be on the start line of the rally alongside his friend and team mate Scott Bright. With very little experience, the 24-year-old will make the best of his enduro skills having competed in ISDE events, World Championship and the last Brazilian championship with another Dakar newcomer, Frenchman Adrien Metge. For his first Dakar, his only goal is to finish.
“The Dakar had always been in the back of my mind but I had no financial means to get there. My path to the Dakar went through Australia when I competed in the Australasian Safari in 2014 where I finished 3rd, winning the Dakar challenge. Sadly I wasn't financially able to do it in 2015. This year, the only real preparation I had was when I competed in a navigation enduro in Brazil. I've actually only been on the Dakar bike for 15min. I guess I'll learn as we go. I know I'm naturally fast but navigation will be the big problem. My main concern really is the bike and the fact that I haven't spent a lot of time on it. I can't say I'm that confident after suffering two engine failures in Mexico. It's going to be a real leap into the unknown.” ~ Ian Blythe
Rider No. 145
Team HT Husqvarna Rally Raid / 450 Rally Husqvarna
Carroll Gittere isn't your average type Dakar rider. First of all because he's not the tallest of bikers (1m62) but also and mainly because his first passion was for circuit riding. “CR” is fast and has spent most of his riding career at over 200km/h. A Superbike specialist he competed twice in the legendary Isle of Man TT: close to 60kms of speed madness with its 250 turns. An exploit in itself, but so far from the deserts of the Dakar. Despite experiencing the Baja 1000 and 500, Gittere knows he's not a real dirt bike specialist and that's why, when accepted to do the Dakar, he moved to Nevada in a camper van. Far from his hometown of Charlotte, the American has been “eating” sand and dunes and got used to the Husqvarna he'll be riding on the Dakar. He knows his first attempt will be a learning experience and just wants to ride and finish the rally.
“I first started thinking about coming to the Dakar in 2008. In 2010, I tried again but had no funding. I was getting bored of circuit racing. I wanted to do the Dakar because it's so hard. Not so many riders have competed in so many disciplines. When I was accepted in the race back in June, I decided to move to Nevada to train. I rented a camper van and left my home in Charlotte. I haven't been home since. I didn't grow up on dirt bikes so I needed to live in the desert. It's not a natural thing for me. I'm now so excited. I'm eager to see where my strengths are. On roads, I know I'm fast. Speed doesn't bother me. Where I struggle is in the sand and dunes. I'm based outside Las Vegas where we have all the natural elements. Jimmy Lewis (3rd of the 2000 Dakar) introduced me to the area. I'll be riding a Husqvarna and it's perfect. I know how to fix it. What worries me are the technical parts of the course that burn your energy. I'm on a three-year deal with the Dakar. This year, I'll just try to finish it. I have no illusions on my placement. Quinn Cody told me not to race. He said I should just ride and understand what I'm doing right or wrong." ~ Carroll Gittere
How to Follow Carroll Gittere:
Carroll's Delorme Personal Satellite Tracker