He’s back: Robby Gordon to return to Dakar Rally next month after two-year hiatus

Photo: Robby Gordon
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Robby Gordon is giving himself one heck of a 50th birthday present: he’s returning to compete in the 2019 Dakar Rally after a two-year hiatus.

And he’s doing so in a big way.

Gordon, who turns 50 on January 2, just four days before the Rally kicks off its 10-stage/11-day run in Peru from Jan. 6-17, will field three race trucks in one of the most grueling races in the world.

“The Dakar Rally is excited to welcome back Robby Gordon, the most famous American competitor in its history,” said Rally director Xavier Gavory. “An absolute legend of the Dakar for his aggressive driving style and showmanship, Gordon and Team Speed will be one of the teams to keep an eye on in the 2019 edition.”

This year’s Rally will be significantly different than past editions. It’s been shortened from three-plus weeks and nearly 20 stages to just under two weeks and 10 stages.

And for the first time in Rally history, the entire course will be held in one country.

“100 percent Peru, 100 percent Dakar,” Gavory said.

Since competing in his first Dakar Rally in 2005, Gordon has achieved 17 stage wins and five top-15 overall finishes, including a third-place finish in 2009. His last start was in the 2016 Rally.

He is the first American in Rally history to not only earn a stage win, but also the first to earn an overall podium finish.

Gordon will be reunited with navigator Kellon Walch, who has called the route for Gordon in four previous Rally’s.

“I fully intend to come to Peru to compete for the overall, and there is no better person to have in the right seat than Kellon,” Gordon said in a media release. “The in-car communication and mechanical skills between the both of us over the years allows me to have the trust to concentrate on driving.”

Gordon and Team Speed will compete in Textron XX entries that will be sponsored by Toyo Tires, King Off-Road Racing Shocks and Gordon’s own SPEED Energy Drink. Gordon will compete in his 13th Dakar Rally, joined by first-time Rally competitors Blade Hildebrand and Cole Potts.

Hildebrand, who is coming off his first season in Gordon’s Stadium SUPER Trucks series, will have former six-time Rally motorcycle competitor Jonah Street as his navigator.

“This is a race I’ve followed all my life, and to represent Team SPEED and the USA at the international level, competing against the world’s best off-road racers in the most grueling race known to man – what an honor,” Hildebrand said.

Potts, who also drives in Gordon’s Stadium SUPER Trucks series, will have veteran motorcycle racer Max Eddy as his navigator.

“The opportunity to compete in the Dakar in Peru is an exciting opportunity,” Pitts said. “We are going to be able to tackle some of the world’s toughest sand dunes and witness some beautiful terrain.”

This year’s Dakar Rally, the 41st edition in its storied history, begins January 6 in Lima, Peru, and returns to Lima for its conclusion on January 17. The total distance of the 10-stage event (plus one rest day) will be 2,954 kilometers (1,836 miles).

NBCSN will air daily updates, highlights and interviews starting January 7 at 7 p.m. ET, with a special show about Gordon and his Team SPEED teammates.

Updates on Gordon’s and Team SPEED’s progress during the Rally can be found on Instagram and Facebook, as well as the following websites:

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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