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5 Americans to Watch In The Upcoming 2016 Dakar Rally

 Five fast Americans with a chance for a top finish in this year's Dakar Rally.

Published on 12.28.2015
5 americans to watch in the 2016 Dakar Rally

Success in the Dakar Rally isn’t just about all-out speed. It requires an ability to navigate, mechanical skills, incredible endurance and a lot of luck. Rally Racers are pushed to their physical limits over two weeks of racing and the probability that something will go wrong mechanically, or for a race ending accident to occur, is extremely high. That’s why for many just finishing the race is the primary goal.

With so many factors able to affect a race, the Dakar Rally is always full of drama. For days, your favorite racer may be in the lead only to drop several positions the next day due to a mechanical failure or navigation mistake. What’s more, the motorcycles compete on the same course with quads, cars and 10-ton trucks. All the while, 4.8 million spectators cheer competitors on as they blaze through truly epic landscapes in South America. It all adds up to two weeks of emotional highs and lows, and some of the best motorcycle racing on television.

On January 3rd, more than 150 motorcycles will line up for the start of the 2016 Dakar Rally. This year, the rally starts at sea level in Buenos Aires, Argentina and will reach elevations over 15,000 feet (4,600 meters) in the Bolivian Andes. Finishers will cover 5,576 miles (8,973 km) with the longest stage being 578 miles (931 km). There will also be two marathon race stages where competitors must take care of all the maintenance and repairs on their bike, without any assistance.

Ricky Brebrec on the CRF450 Rally
To win the Dakar Rally it takes more than just outright speed. A rider needs to navigate by roadbook, have incredible endurance and know how to turn a wrench like a pro mechanic.

Despite the spectacle, the Dakar Rally is still a niche sport in the US and hasn’t caught on like it has in Europe and South America. No American has ever won the Dakar Rally in the motorcycle division but we have had three podium finishers: (2nd place) Danny Laporte in 1992, (3rd place) Jimmy Lewis in 2000 and (3rd place) Chris Blais in 2007. We’ve also had a handful of American top ten finishers and stage winners in recent years that include Johnny Campbell, Quinn Cody, Jonah Street and the late Kurt Caselli.

The last two years have been a bust for the USA in the motorcycle division. Luckily, there is a new breed of Rally Racers coming from America to compete in the 2016 Dakar Rally, and they all have the potential to represent the USA well. Here are the five Americans to watch when the flag drops on January 3rd, 2016.
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Team Rally Pan Am

2016 Dakar Rally Team Rally Pan Am
Ian Blythe (left) and Scott Bright (right) of Team Rally Pan Am.

1. Scott Bright #105

Scott Bright is an experienced Enduro competitor, having raced the International Six Days Enduro four times as a part of the official USA team. He switched to Rally Racing late in his racing career after catching the bug. At 44 years old he entered his first rally race, the 2014 Baja Rally, and made quite an impression by taking the overall win! While preparing to defend his title this last October, bad luck struck and he broke both of his arms in a training accident. While it has interrupted his training, Scott has been able to continue his cardio routine and he’s worked hard to get back to full fitness level again. It’s been a three-year journey to get the financial funding and prepare physically for the toughest rally in the world. We know Scott won’t stop until he sees the finish line!

2. Ian Blythe #106

Ian Blythe is another Enduro Specialist who is no stranger to the international stage. The 24-year-old is an International Six Days Enduro gold medalist and he’s also competed in the FIM Enduro World Championship. Ian’s most recent accomplishment was winning the 2015 Brazilian National Enduro Championship. He’s been making the transition to Rally Racing in recent years and finished 3rd at the 2014 Australasian Safari. His teammate Scott Bright is a lifelong friend and mentor. The Rally Pan Am racers will rely on each other to get to the finish line but both men will race on equal terms (no waterboy status).
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Team HT Husqvarna Rally Raid

Team HT Husqvarna Rally Raid
Top 10 Dakar Rally Finisher and Baja 1000 Champ Quinn Cody (far right) announces Team HT Husqvarna Rally Raid at the Dakar Media Event. From left to right is Alexander Smith (son of Malcolm Smith) and CR Gittere.

3. Carroll “CR” Gittere #145

CR Gittere is no stranger to speed and danger. He’s a 10-year veteran of AMA Superbike racing and he’s even competed in the Isle of Man TT. Racing within inches of brick walls at over 100 miles per hour on the British Isle would be enough of an adventure to last a lifetime for most, but CR has his sights set on a new challenge — completing the Dakar Rally. While CR has competed in the Baja 1000 and 500, he’s still a relative newcomer to off-road racing. That’s why he recently moved to Pahrump, Nevada where he’s been eating sand and dunes daily in preparation for the race. Look for the 5’3″ (1.62 m) CR to be a speed demon on the smoother stages and you can be sure he has the nerves of steel and determination required to make it to the finish line.

4. Alexander Smith #103

One American you will want to keep an eye on is Alexander Smith. Not only is he the son of off-road racing legend Malcolm Smith (6-time Baja 1000 winner) but he’s an accomplished racer in his own right. Racing long distances is nothing new for the California native, he’s won the Baja 1000 in the Ironman class two times, but he only started Rally Racing recently. Nonetheless, the 30-year-old was able to place a respectable 21st in this year’s Morocco Rally. And what’s more impressive, is that he is doing this all while being General Manager of his family’s motorcycle dealership, Malcolm Smith Motorsports. No doubt, dad will be cheering him on nervously all the way to the finish line.
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Team HRC Honda

Ricky Brebec and Johnny Campbell
American phenom Ricky Brebec (left) stands next to his mentor Baja 1000 Champ and Top 10 Dakar Rally Finisher Johnny Campbell (right).

5. Ricky Brebec #48

Of all the great Americans racing in the 2016 Dakar Rally, none has as much potential for a top finishing position as the young Ricky Brebec. The 24-year-old phenom has already won the Baja Score, Best in the Desert and National Hare and Hound Championships, and he’s the only rider in history to win all three championships in a single year! Not only is he one of the fastest off-road racers in the world but he’s got some grit. After breaking his neck earlier this year, he was able to recover in time for the season finale in the National Hare and Hound series where he shocked everyone with a win.

Team HRC had been looking for a young fast American to mold into a Rally Racer and Ricky was a perfect fit for the job. In his first International Rally Race riding for HRC, Ricky was the top Junior and fifth overall. In his second Rally Race, Ricky just missed the podium due to a penalty. Clearly, Ricky has the speed for the podium and he’s on one of the best bikes in the field. Now he just needs the experience to go with it. In his rookie year, he’ll be riding in a supporting role for top HRC Factory riders Joan Barreda and Paulo Goncalves. Hopefully, he’ll have an opportunity to show off his speed and win some stages for the US!

This Year Should Offer Great Competition

Two racers that have dominated the sport over the last decade recently retired from motorcycle racing — Cyril Despres and Mark Coma (5 titles each!). Their absence opens the door for new riders, making this year’s Dakar Rally even more intriguing. The Dakar Rally course will also be even more challenging from a navigation perspective, which could bring new riders with superior navigation skills up to the forefront in 2016. So tune-in and get ready for some great racing!

The 2016 Dakar Rally will be televised on NBC Sports in the US. For other foreign market broadcasts check the TV station listings on www.dakar.com.

Photos by Justin W. Coffey

Author: Rob Dabney

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