Rally raid rookie & Baja 1000 champion Ricky Brabec wins Junior class at Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge
Jerry Bernardo Via RedBull.com
As a teenager I always remember my grandmother saying, “You rest, you rust.”
Not one to let any dust settle for a great length of time Southern
California fast guy Ricky Brabec took a call last month that could have very well changed his career for the better.
Last year was mostly good to Brabec as he ended up with number one plates from three different off-road race series on his mantle: Best in the Desert’s American Off-road Racing Series, Kenda/SRT AMA Hare & Hound National Championship Series and the SCORE World Desert Championship.
In a perfect world the phone would be ringing off the hook after a
season like that, but fate is sometimes a very cruel mistress and Brabec rode into this year with two race bikes he spent his own money on.
But then came that very unexpected call last month from Dakar Rally
veteran and Kurt Caselli Foundation rider safety advisor Quinn Cody who asked Brabec if he was ready to step up to a new challenge. An opportunity to race a full-on Team HRC factory Honda CRF450 Rally bike at the 25th Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge rally awaited and Cody believed that Brabec was the perfect candidate for the seat.
Red Bull: Up until this race you were pretty much a rally virgin. How did this effort come about?
Ricky Brabec: One morning I got a call from Quinn Cody. Quinn asked me what I thought about rallies and if I would be interested in racing in one. I told him I was definitely down to give it a shot. He gave me the phone number for the guys from the HRC rally team and before I could ring them, they had called me. One week later I was sitting on a plane to Dubai!
RB: What are three number one plates worth in the industry nowadays?
Brabec: Last year I won three different championships, but nothing really ever materialized from all of that—I still had to buy two motorcycles and fund my own efforts. I was pretty bummed out; it’s tough to keep your head up and move forward in those sorts of situations. Having said that, I also know in 2016 people are still going to want a champion so I’m going to continue to train hard and hopefully some offers may come my way.
RB: How many times have you raced dirt bikes following a GPS and a road book?
Brabec: Up until this event I had no rally experience whatsoever. Quinn has raced rallies in both cars and bikes so he knows all of the little tricks. We went out to the desert and spent around three days doing some road book training. Quinn showed me how to read the kilometers along with the direction as well as all of the icons for dangers, rocks, ditches, mountains and the rest. He combined that with instructing me on the “cap” heading (the compass direction which a competitor should be moving toward) while traveling at race speed. After the five days competing in the rally, it all started to click.
RB: How much pressure did you put on yourself to perform when you found out who your Honda teammates were?
Brabec: It was a bit nerve-racking travelling that far from home to race a bike I had never even sat on. I was riding for the HRC Honda rally team with teammates Joan Barreda and Paulo Goncalves. The guys on my team are two of the best in rally racing so, yeah, it was all quite intimidating for me at first. Once the race began it felt like any other race; you just set your groove and have fun with it. (Goncalves is the 2013 FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Champion while Barreda enjoyed four stage wins at the 2013 Dakar Rally.)
RB: A rally bike is much different than a normal 450cc four-stroke race bike. How did you adapt to the change?
Brabec: It was really weird for me racing a bike with all that added weight plus the fairing, but as the days went on [after testing] I got used to it. I found that you have to ride those kind of bikes a bit more in the center. You also have to sit back on the bike more than I’m used to; you can’t lean over the front of the bike like you can on a normal race bike—your chin hits the fairing and the road book. Once I learned to sit back, it felt fine.
RB: Was there any point that you found yourself struggling during the race?
Brabec: The entire race was all held in sand dunes so I struggled the whole race. There were a few days I got close to Marc Coma, Paolo and Joan. I tried to keep up with them and watched what they were doing as we approached these massive sand dunes with razorbacks. It was a learn-as-you-go ride for me, but watching those guys really helped me a lot.
RB: As a rookie to rally racing you ended the event quite well. Are you happy with your result?
Brabec: I sure am, I finished the event in fifth overall and won the Junior class. I’m also hoping to go back and ride another event of the series. If it all works out for me, I plan to compete in the Dakar Rally in 2016. I want to thank both Quinn Cody for calling and the entire HRC Honda rally team for giving me the opportunity to come out and go racing with them.