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ADV EventsDakar Rally 2018: 9 Riders With the Strongest Chance to Win

Dakar Rally 2018: 9 Riders With the Strongest Chance to Win

Rally Racer Ned Suesse gives us his top picks for the Dakar Rally 2018 win.

Published on 01.02.2018

For some, hearing Christmas music means packages under a tree. For the Dakar faithful, it means that the greatest racing spectacle in the world is just around the corner.

This year, the race is more than 9000km, meaning that competitors will ride the equivalent of Anchorage to Key West, in two weeks, mostly off-road. In addition, the field is really deep- the podium has shuffled over the last few years so there are quite a few potential winners. Predicting the outcome of the race is a fool’s errand, so as a fool, here are my predictions.

Sam Sunderland (#1)

Dual Sport Dakar 2018 Rally Sam Sunderland


Manufacturer: KTM
2017 Finishing Position: 1st
Home Country: United Kingdom

The place to start is at the top- this year’s winner. Before 2017, Sam had demonstrated speed, but never consistency. In January he put together an excellent race- winning overall with only one stage win. That may not seem dominant, but it is smart- winning stages is less important than staying in touch with the leaders and making sure that the same person doesn’t finish in front of you repeatedly. That’s what Sam did and it worked.

After a win, some riders catch fire, trusting their riding and becoming even more confident. Others don’t have the same drive they once did. My guess is that Sam will be one of the former, relaxing into his program and letting it bring him to the front rather than overriding and dropping out.

Matthias Walkner (#2)

Dual Sport Dakar 2018 Rally Matthias Walkner

Manufacturer: KTM
2017 Finishing Position: 2nd
Home Country: Austria

Matthias is a former motocross world champion and a favorite of the brass at KTM. His speed is without question, and his second place in 2017 shows he can be consistent. He has made big mistakes before, but they say there is no way to learn like an error.

Adrien Van Beveren (#4)

Dual Sport Dakar 2018 Rally Adrien Van Beveren

Manufacturer: Yamaha
2017 Finishing Position: 4th
Home Country: France

Adrien has a humble attitude toward his racing, and has improved his position every year. However, his Yamaha is less developed than the Honda or KTM platforms, so he has an additional obstacle to overcome for victory. He has shown wisdom and consistency and hopefully this year he can win a stage and get more experience at the front.

Joan Barreda Bort (#5)

Dual Sport Dakar 2018 Rally Joan Barreda Bort

Manufacturer: Honda
2017 Finishing Position: 5th
Home Country: Spain

Honda built their team around JBB, and so far, he has not rewarded them with victory. He is an incredible rider, but in every race so far, his judgment has been lacking. Last year, the entire team was embroiled in a debacle when they refueled outside an assistance zone and each received a 1 hour penalty. Look for stage wins and drama, but the top step of the podium is doubtful to me.

Paulo Goncalves (#6)

Dual Sport Dakar 2018 Rally Paul Goncalves

Manufacturer: Honda
2017 Finishing Position: 6th
Home Country: Portugal

Paulo is a personal favorite of mine. He is rock solid and fast, sportsmanlike, and tough. With that said, it is not clear that he has the speed to consistently challenge the very fastest, and in years past he has overridden when he was left with no choice and paid the price.

Toby Price (#8)

Dual Sport Dakar 2018 Rally Toby Price

Manufacturer: KTM
2017 Finishing Position: DNF @ Stage 4
Home Country: Australia

Toby Price is a beast. He has not been riding most of this year as he recovered from his injury last Dakar, so his fitness is in question, but his speed and ability to lead from the front are not. If he is fit, he is my pick to win.

Stefan Svitko (#9)

Dual Sport Dakar 2018 Rally Stefan Svitko

Manufacturer: KTM
2017 Finishing Position: 25th
Home Country: Slovakia

Stefan has quietly built an outstanding program, and was let down by problems last year that put him in 25th (he was 2nd the year before). He is a steady competitor who would need things to go wrong for others to win, but has proven he can be there to the end.

Pablo Quintanilla (#10)

Dual Sport Dakar 2018 Rally Pablo Quintanilla

Manufacturer: Husqvarna
2017 Finishing Position: DNF @ Stage 10
Home Country: Chile

Fresh off his second world cross country rally championship, Pablo has the speed and familiarity with navigation to compete with anyone in the race. He has competed in 5 Dakars before, with 3 abandonments and a 4th and 3rd place. I think his goal is the top step, and he will push as hard as he can until he either achieves it, or breaks something.

Ricky Brabec (#20)

Dual Sport Dakar 2018 Rally Ricky Brabec

Manufacturer: Honda
2017 Finishing Position: DNF @ Stage 10
Home Country: USA

A few years ago, Ricky won the Score Baja championship, the National Hare and Hound championship, and the Best in the Desert series in a single year. Unbelievably, he was without a ride for the next year when Factory Honda called to offer him a Rally ride. He finished 3rd in the Rally Morocco this fall, and arrives in Dakar with a clear understanding of what it will take to succeed.

Other Riders To Watch

In addition to podium predictions, we have some other great racers to cheer for. This is a good year for American spectators- we have some great riders entered. Here are some folks to keep an eye on.

Dual Sport Dakar 2018 Rally

Andrew Short (#54): After an incredible career as a professional motocross racer, Andrew decided to try rally racing since he still loves riding his motorcycle. I have been fortunate to ride with Andrew some, and it is obvious how seriously he takes the task, how thoughtfully he approaches it, and that the skill and fitness that made him a frontrunner in MX will reward him in rally as well.

With that said, he is careful to avoid setting expectations- he wants to ride within his comfort zone and learn the game before he starts to push. Most people see 1 Dakar as the long game, Andrew is looking even further. One thing is for sure, you won’t find a better sportsman anywhere.

Mark Samuels (#64): Mark has won the Baja 1000 3 times, and has had Dakar on his mind for years. He will be fast, and navigation won’t be a huge issue until he moves forward in the pack. His starting position will be difficult as he fights dust from lesser riders, and this is his first rally at a world level, so there are many lessons to learn. I’m sure he will be a quick study and I think a top 20 is possible.

Petr Vlcek (#82): Petr lives in South Carolina and despite being new to offroad riding, finished 68th in last year’s Dakar. He is returning.

Lyndon Poskitt (#100): Anyone who watched the 2017 edition got a good taste of what Lyndon is about- good humor and adventure! This year, he is again racing Malles Moto (no assistance) and has a crew coming not to help, but to document his struggles. Lyndon hopes to win the Malles Moto class, and I think anyone can see he has a good chance to do so.

Dual Sport Dakar 2018 Rally Route

Shane Esposito (#103): Shane is an American desert racing legend, with wins in many of our most prestigious races including this years Baja 1000. He has proven his speed and consistency in the US and Mexico, now is his chance to try Dakar. He clearly has the riding skill and speed, and while I’m not sure how much he has ridden with a roadbook, he has too much experience to count out. I expect him to advance quickly and then take time to learn how the frontrunners compete.

Bill Conger (#105): Bill was my teammate in the 2012 Dakar but had the misfortune of a minor crash causing a major mechanical on Day 2. He spent hours repairing and persevering and eventually made the bivouac, but alas it was too late to continue. He doesn’t know the word quit and he’s also a heck of a rider. This year he is racing a factory rallybike with the Klymciw racing crew, which removes a great many variables from his previous effort, and all of us with the good fortune to know him will be cheering him to the finish.

One of the great aspects of Dakar is that the course provides the challenge, so we can all cheer for everyone to finish. Even within the race, competitors wish each other the best, because we all know the consequences of the worst.

Courtesy ASO/@ World/A Lavadinho

Author: Ned Suesse

Ned is a Moto Journalist, Dakar Rally Finisher and the founder of DoubleTake Mirrors. He began riding off-road motorcycles shortly after college, which eventually developed into a desire to race. His competitive racing career has taken him from Mexico to Tunisia, Italy and all over the Americas. He finally reached his dream of racing the Dakar Rally in 2012 at the age of 35. Ned crossed the Finish Line 53rd out of the 188 participants, and was the only American to go all the way that year!

Author: Ned Suesse

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Andrus Chesley
Andrus Chesley
January 2, 2018 10:02 am

Pull for a safe and great race. And, of course I’ll be pulling for the USA entries. LOL!

Quin Marais
Quin Marais
January 2, 2018 8:38 pm

AFIK the Yamaha team are using Rekluse auto clutches – wow ; that will get people talking…

January 3, 2018 5:38 am
Reply to  Quin Marais

In the past many teams ran the Rekluse covers, but weren’t running the Rekluse clutch. I don’t know what Yamaha is running, but just because you see the covers (which are much stronger than stock) doesn’t show you what is underneath.

Scott Shriver
Scott Shriver
January 3, 2018 1:30 am

Cheering on for Bill Conger,
Ride safe, haul arz, Go America!

Kelli Witte
Kelli Witte
January 3, 2018 7:12 am

Excellent article …. but I do wish you had included the ages of the riders as I think It is AMAZING that my friend and neighbor BILL CONGER is competetive at 51 years old!!!!

Quin Marais
Quin Marais
January 3, 2018 2:28 pm

The best part about Dakar (for the god-squad top 20) is the Nav. Navigation punishes the brainless circus monkey instinct useful in other races, and introduces the element of composure, rewards individuality of solid Nav decisions – Toby Price for the win. KTM vs Honda – play fair peeps, no illegal refuels just after the hard section.

Malle Moto is the real deal and for me the Malle Moto winner is the ultimate “rider” – Gooooooo Lyndon Poskitt.

Mike Eckert
Mike Eckert
January 3, 2018 4:56 pm

I’ll be pulling for a local hero here “Ricky Brabec”….be safe and bring it home for a win !!!! !

Dean Henthorn
Dean Henthorn
January 4, 2018 2:07 pm

Just damn excited to watch again this year. Hoping for some good luck for Toby. He paid his dues and is a ripper. Like most here. Pulling for the Yanks, and Andrew Short! Thats awesome and will be interesting to see how he does.


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