2017 Dakar Rally: U.S. rider Ricky Brabec ready to join elite list

(Photos courtesy Honda Racing Corp.)
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In the 36-year history of the Dakar Rally, just two American motorcycle racers have ever earned top-3 finishes in the overall event: Danny Laporte (second) in 1992 and Jimmy Lewis (third) in 2000.

Dakar Rally coverage begins on Tuesday, January 3, at 5:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

It’s very possible that 25-year-old Ricky Brabec may add his name to that list in this year’s Rally, which begins Jan. 2 in Asuncion, Paraguay.

The Mira Loma, California two-wheel specialist will be making his second start in the Rally. And after last year’s impressive ninth-place finish as a rookie in the event that stretches across Paraguay, Bolivia and Argentina, Brabec is ready to put his name in the Rally’s history books.

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The biggest challenge for me is just trying to improve on my ninth place from last year,” Brabec told Dirt Bike Magazine. “I was just getting a feel for the race and seeing what I was able to do.

“This time, in 2017, we have a very solid team and all of us can push towards the front.”

Brabec impressed many in last year’s rally, not just with his astute riding, but also his lofty finish. After being scored 22nd following the opening day of the 2016 Rally, he quickly moved up the ranks to as high as seventh before ultimately finishing ninth in the 14-day off-road endurance test.

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His favorite memory of last year’s race? “Finishing,” Brabec told Dirt Bike Magazine. “It’s a brutal race over fourteen days and I had never done anything like that before. … My ride was good and I hope to better my results. It’s a bit frustrating and annoying when you can’t win.”

Part of the Monster Energy Honda Team, Brabec is one of the brightest up-and-coming stars on two wheels. In his career to date, he’s won a number of races including some of the most prestigious events in desert racing: the Hare & Hound, Best in the Desert and Score, including wins in the Baja 1000, Baja 500 and San Felipe 250.

Now he’s ready to build upon his rookie outcome in his sophomore run in the Rally.

Click here for Brabec’s official profile on the Rally’s website.

 

 

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Cadillac, Acura battle for top speed as cars back on track for Rolex 24 at Daytona practice

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The new hybrid prototypes of Cadillac and Acura battled atop the speed chart as practice resumed Thursday for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Chip Ganassi Racing driver Richard Westbrook was fastest Thursday afternoon in the No. 02 Cadillac V-LMDh with a 1-minute, 35.185-second lap around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course at Daytona International Speedway.

That pace topped Ricky Taylor’s 1:35.366 lap that topped the Thursday morning session that marked the first time the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship was back on track since qualifying Sunday afternoon that concluded the four-day Roar Before The Rolex 24 test.

In a final session Thursday night, Matt Campbell was fastest (1:35.802) in the No. 7 Porsche Penske Motorsports Porsche 963 but still was off the times set by Westbrook and Taylor.

Punctuated by Tom Blomqvist’s pole position for defending race winner Meyer Shank Racing, the Acura ARX-06s had been fastest for much of the Roar and led four consecutive practice sessions.

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But the times have been extremely tight in the new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) category that has brought hybrid engines to IMSA’s premier class. Only 0.9 seconds separated the nine LMDh cars in GTP in qualifying, and though the spread slightly widened to 1.378 seconds in Thursday’s practices with teams on varying strategies and preparation, Westbrook still pooh-poohed the importance of speeds.

“It’s always nice to be at the top, but I don’t think it means too much or read too much into it” Westbrook said. “Big fuel tanks in the GTP class this year, so you have no idea what fuel levels people are running. We had a good run, and the car is really enjoyable to drive now. I definitely wasn’t saying that a month ago.

“It really does feel good now. We are working on performance and definitely unlocking some potential, and it just gives us more confidence going into the race. It’s going to be super tight. Everyone’s got the same power, everyone has the same downforce, everyone has the same drag levels and let’s just go race.”

Because teams have put such a premium on reliability, handling mostly has suffered in the GTPs, but Westbrook said the tide had turned Thursday.

“These cars are so competitive, and you were just running it for the sake of running it in the beginning, and there’s so much going on, you don’t really have time to work on performance,” he said. “A lot of emphasis was on durability in the beginning, and rightly so, but now finally we can work on performance, and that’s the same for other manufacturers as well. But we’re worrying about ourselves and improving every run, and I think everybody’s pretty happy with their Cadillac right now.”

Mike Shank, co-owner of Blomqvist’s No. 60 on the pole, said his team still was facing reliability problems despite its speed.

“We address them literally every hour,” Shank said. “We’re addressing some little thing we’re doing better to try to make it last. And also we’re talking about how we race the race, which will be different from years past.

“Just think about every system in the car, I’m not going to say which ones we’re working on, but there are systems in the car that ORECA and HPD are continually trying to improve. By the way, sometimes we put them on the car and take them off before it even goes out on the track because something didn’t work with electronics. There’s so much programming. So many departments have to talk to each other. That bridge gets broken from a code not being totally correct, and the car won’t run. Or the power steering turns off.”

Former Rolex 24 winner Renger van der Zande of Ganassi said it still is a waiting game until the 24-hour race begins Saturday shortly after 1:30 p.m.

“I think the performance of the car is good,” van der Zande said. “No drama. We’re chipping away on setup step by step and the team is in control. It’s crazy out there what people do on the track at the moment. It’s about staying cool and peak at the right moment, and it’s not the right moment yet for that. We’ll keep digging.”


PRACTICE RESULTS:

Click here for Session I (by class)

Click here for Session II (by class)

Click here for Session III (by class)

Combined speeds