Photo: Robby Gordon

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

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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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Dakar Stage 8 Highlights: Ricky Brabec blows engine, retires

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The motorcycle class of the Dakar Rally has been a seesaw affair through seven stages, but Ricky Brabec seemed poised to win the class for the USA. Until he blew an engine in Stage 8 that is – and gave up a more-than seven second lead. He was the second rider to retire after starting the stage as the leader. Joan Barreda retired in Stage 3.

Brabec was looking to become the first American rider to win in 27 years, but his fate was eerily similar to last year. Three days from the end of the stage, he retired about 50 kilometers into the stage, which is precisely when and where he retired in 2018.

With Brabec’s trouble, Toby Price leapfrogged from third to second in class despite riding with a metal pin in his wrist. In the world’s most grueling endurance event, it has never been more obvious that it isn’t over till it’s over.

Meanwhile, Nasser Al-Attiyah continues to run a consistent rally. With a 46 minute advantage over Nani Roma and Sebastien Loeb, all he needs to do is stay error free for the final two stages to win his third Dakar.

Here are some of the other highlights:

In the cars class, Sebastien Loeb scored his fifth stage win of the Rally by seven minutes over Nasser Al-Attiyah, but problems in Stage 3 have kept him from being competitive for the overall lead. … Jakub Przygonski earned his third podium of the Rally. All of these have been third-place finishes.

Class Leaders: Al-Attiyah holds an advantage of 46:29 over Roma and 46:45 over Loeb.

In motorcycles, Ricky Brabec’s blown engine opened up the class once more. … Matthias Walkner narrowly edged Pablo Quintanilla by 45 seconds. … But it was Toby Price’s third-place finish that helped elevate him to the class lead. … Sam Sunderland was supposed to blaze the path for the riders, but a malfunctioning navigation system kept him from rolling off first. Blazing the trail is a disadvantage and officials adjudged him to have tampered with his system to avoid that fate. Sunderland was penalized an hour to finish 35th on the stage. He dropped to ninth in class.

Class Leaders: Price inherited the lead over Quintanilla by 1:03 and 6:35 over Walkner

In side by sides, Francisco Lopez Contardo scored the victory over Cristian Baumgart by 4:47. … Gerard Farres Guell rounded out the top three.

Class Leaders: Contardo holds an advantage 0f 54:10 over Rodrigo Piazolli and one hour, 08:09 over Guell

In quads, there was no surprise in Nicolas Cavigliasso winning his seventh stage of the season. … He padded his overall advantage over Gustavo Gallego by more than nine minutes. … Jeremias Gonzalez Ferioli finished third.

Class Leaders: Cavigliasso holds and advantage of one hour, 24:52 over Ferioli and one hour, 44:04 over Gallego

In trucks, Dmitry Sotnikov won the stage to take over the class lead. He beat Ton Van Genugten by 22:01. … Siarhei Viazovich rounded out the top three. … Eduard Nikolaev lost the class lead by finishing eighth – nearly one hour behind Sotnikov.

Class Leaders: Sotnikov holds an advantage of 26:49 over and one hour, 7:43 over Gerard de Rooy

Stage Wins

Motorcycles
Sam Sunderland [2] (Stage 5 and 7), Matthias Walkner [2] (Stage 2 and 8), Joan Barreda [1] (Stage 1), Xavier de Soultrait [1] (Stage 3), Ricky Brabec [1] (Stage 4) and Pablo Quintanilla [1] (Stage 6)

Quads
Nicolas Cavigliasso [7] (Stage 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8) and Jeremias Gonzalez Ferioli [1] (Stage 3)

Cars
Sebastien Loeb [4] (Stage 2, 5, 6 and 8), Nasser Al-Attiyah [2] (Stage 1 and 4) and Stephane Peterhansel [2] (Stage 3 and 7)

Side-by-sides
Francisco Lopez Contardo [4] (Stage 2, 6, 7 and 8), Reinaldo Varela [1] (Stage 1), Gerard Farres Guell [1] (Stage 3), Sergei Kariakin [1] (Stage 4) and Rodrigo Piazzoli [1] (Stage 5)

Trucks
Eduard Nikolaev [3] (Stage 1, 2 and 5), Andrey Karginov [2] (Stage 3 and 4), Dmitry Sotnikov [2] (Stage 6 and 8) and Gerard de Rooy [1] (Stage 7)

For more watch the daily highlight show on NBCSN. Click here for the complete schedule.

Or check out the streaming show at 6:30-7 p.m. by clicking this link.