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Ever Wonder If You Could Race Dakar? Here’s What It Takes.

 Two Dakar Rally Privateers share how they made racing Dakar a reality.

Published on 08.25.2015
What it takes to race the Dakar Rally
The brutal challenges of the Dakar Rally begin long before the starting line.

The infamous Dakar Rally is the Holy Grail of motorcycling events. It attracts enthusiasts and professionals from all over the world to try their skills — and luck — in a race of navigation, riding ability and endurance. With an entry fee over $20,000 and many qualifying rounds to endure, the challenges of the Dakar Rally commence long before the Starting Line.

Non-Factory racers spend months (even years) fundraising and hustling to obtain the money, gear, gadgets, and teammates to even justify an airline ticket to South America. And Rally competitors Ned Suesse and Scott Bright are no different. Considered “grassroots” riders, they’ve been independently entering themselves into races since their twenties. And now, reaching the ages when people question your abilities and motives, they’ve each developed an impressive track record.

Ned, born and raised in upstate New York, moved to Colorado for college and began riding motorcycles for the first time shortly after graduating. The Colorado back country was the perfect training ground to hone his skills as a dirt rider and his love for the trails eventually developed into a desire to race. Soon, he entered the racing world and set his sights on an incredible challenge: the Dakar Rally.

Despite the late start, Ned’s competitive racing career (though he doesn’t consider this a job) has taken him from Mexico to Tunisia, Italy and all over the Americas. By the time he finally reached the Dakar Rally at age 35, Ned was ready for the challenge and crossed the Finish Line 53rd out of the 188 participants (only 97 actually completed the rally). To top it off, he was the only American in 2012 to go all the way!

This is where Scott Bright makes his entry. While supporting Ned’s participation in the 2012 Dakar, he developed a taste for the technical details of Rally Racing. Already 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.

With a new found racing passion, he entered the 2014 Baja Rally — still a virgin to the sport at 44 years old — and made an outstanding impression by taking the overall win! He plans to defend his Baja Rally title this September in one last race before departing for Argentina in January where he’ll finally achieve his dream of racing in the Dakar.

We caught up with Ned and Scott while they were competing in the Sardegna Rally in Italy this past June and got a chance to ask them a few questions about what it takes to achieve the dream of competing — and finishing — the Dakar Rally. While Ned has raced Dakar once before, Scott has just been through all the preparation for his first Dakar Rally and is now only a few months away from achieving his goal. As privateers chasing the dream, they both have a unique perspective to share with the Dakar hopefuls out there, or anyone that’s ever wondered “Could I race Dakar someday?”

THE ALLURE OF DAKAR

Why are people willing to sacrifice nearly everything to race Dakar?

Scott Bright: I think the allure of Dakar hinges on the fact that it is the longest race on the planet, whether counted by days or by miles. To be able to say that you have reached the Finish Line of an event of that caliber cannot be topped.

Can you put the race length and distances traveled in perspective?

Scott Bright: Secondhand, the event is at least 5,000 miles long. Spread over two and a half weeks, that is a lot of miles everyday. Anchorage, Alaska to Miami, Florida is 4,950 miles.

What’s the most rewarding part about racing? Finishing?

Scott Bright: The most rewarding part of racing for me is the amount of time I spend testing my limits. Riding on that razor edge between being in control and losing control is exhilarating! Not many other ways can you get a feeling like that. At the end of the day, I am worn out – mostly from the adrenaline surges all day!

Sardegna FIM Rally
There’s nothing quite like the feeling of ripping through the countryside, going from village to village, during a long rally race stage.

GETTING THERE

What are the biggest obstacles to achieving “the Dream?”

Scott Bright: The biggest obstacles are the financial ones. There are such a large volume of details to pay for, and they add up. Entry fee for the rider, entry fees for the support crew, support vehicle, travel to get to and from South America, shipping of truck, bike, travel expenses during the race, bike, spare parts, motors, tires, mousses, all of these things add up quickly.

Ned Suesse: I think the biggest obstacle is mental. It will always make more sense to stop than to continue, at many points throughout the leadup and during the actual race. There are checks to write that simply cannot be reconciled to the likely outcome of not finishing. There is training to be done that goes beyond simple discomfort. And during the race, especially if you see someone get badly injured, it is impossible to defend the decision to continue logically. But that’s
the game — pushing through all kinds adversity to find out what you are capable of.

What riding skill-level is required to have a chance at finishing Dakar?

Ned Suesse: There’s a sliding scale of skill-level, desired competitive result, fitness, and chance of finishing. Some of the best riders, who are the most fit, often don’t finish because they push so hard competitively. Some fairly mediocre riders, who are very fit, work very very hard to finish at the back of the pack, and even that takes some luck. And in the middle are some people who are very skilled riders, but don’t have high (or maybe, unrealistic) competitive goals, who are able to finish through perseverance and dedication.

What are the minimum equipment requirements for a long navigation rally?

Ned Suesse: Obviously, rallies like Dakar take in some fairly extreme terrain, so the bike you choose to ride has to be technically capable of traversing those sorts of obstacles. FIM rallies (and Dakar) are limited to 450cc displacement, which most manufacturers make in some form or another. The key is choosing one, and setting it up so that it will survive the many hours and miles of punishment it will see. In addition, you must have 250kms of fuel aboard (which doesn’t sound so bad until you realize how poor fuel economy can be in the dunes), and the capability to navigate.
 
 
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Author: Kyra Sacdalan

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2 thoughts on “Ever Wonder If You Could Race Dakar? Here’s What It Takes.

  1. Interesting read. It truly takes a lot of perseverance to keep going in spite of all the obstacles. Hat’s off to anyone that achieves the dream of Dakar!

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