After two-year hiatus, Robby Gordon ready to tackle Dakar Rally again

Photos courtesy Robby Gordon

The 40th edition of motorsports’ most grueling event, the 3,000-plus mile Dakar Rally, will be part homecoming and part belated 50th birthday party for Robby Gordon.

The American driver, who has historically been one of the biggest stars in the Rally, returns to the competition for the first time since 2016.

And Gordon, who turned 50 on Wednesday, has been close to winning the Rally several times, hopes to give himself a belated birthday present by winning the overall title.

The Rally – which will be featured on daily shows on NBCSN – runs from Jan. 7-17 and will be held solely within the borders of Peru, the host country.

“The Dakar Rally is probably one of the coolest races in the world,” Gordon told Nate Ryan on NASCAR on NBC Podcast. “Obviously, Daytona (the Daytona 500) here in the United States ranks at the top with the Indy 500, but on the world stage, the Dakar Rally is kind of like the Monaco Grand Prix or Daytona 500 or Indy 500, it’s one of the big four.”

Gordon will be competing in his 13th Rally, joined by Team Speed teammates and first-time Rally participants Blade Hildebrand and Cole Potts.

All three will be driving identically prepared UTVs, among the most popular rides in off-road racing.

“They’re based on a UTV and look similar, just quite a bit bigger, like a large Class 1 car or a Formula off-road car,” Gordon told Ryan. “It’s a 110 mph UTV.

“They’re race cars, they’re not production cars that come off the dealer floor and you can go out and get parts for. These are purpose-built production race cars. They resemble the production car, but they’re a Cup car for off-road, or an Indy car for off-road, or for that matter, an F1 car for off-road.

“These little UTVs with the sand dunes will give us an advantage. There’s some places we have an advantage and some places we have a disadvantage, but the biggest thing is being able to run for 3,000 miles.”

Gordon will also be reunited with Kellon Walch, who has served as his navigator in five previous Dakar Rallys.

And Rally officials are welcoming Gordon with open arms.

Gordon concedes Peru’s sand dunes – upon which nearly 90 percent of the Rally will be contested upon – can be wicked.

“The dunes create a new challenge because it’s very hard to read the terrain,” Gordon said. “On gravel roads, you can kind of see a little bit of distance.

“But every time you go over a dune, you never know what’s on the other side. It could be a car in front of you that’s flipped over, it could be what we call a witch eye, something made by the sand and it looks like a witch eye, and if you hit that, the way it’s angled, it basically just sucks you in and it’s a sudden stop and can break suspension.

“At the same time, it can get you stuck and you can spend hours digging yourself out. It can break tie-rods.

“There’s a lot of variables that happen in the dunes. I’d say the dunes are more of a challenge than even the gravel roads. It becomes a navigation-driver challenge to navigate through the dunes without getting stuck or crashing going too fast over the top of one of those things.”

Yet, Gordon is confident he has the right buggy to conquer those dunes.

“It’s optimized for the dunes,” he said. “We probably have an advantage when it comes to the dunes.”

Gordon and his Charlotte-based team has spent the last six months preparing for the Rally. The cars were recently shipped to Peru’s capital of Lima, where the race starts and ends.

Here’s the vehicle Gordon will tackle this year’s Dakar Rally in. (Photo courtesy Robby Gordon)

Even before he gets to challenge the sand dunes, Gordon has had to challenge the logistical elements of just getting his vehicles to the starting line.

“You have to send all your parts and everything has to be documented,” he said. “You better have the exact parts you have listed when you get there, or else the thing can get impounded and seized for a while.

“For us, it’s a bit of a logistical nightmare, but at the same time, it’s probably one of the coolest races in the world.”

The oversized UTVs that Gordon and his teammates will drive are a bit of a departure from vehicles he has driven in past Rallys. The Hummer was by far the most successful, giving Gordon nearly all of his 17 stage wins in his Rally career.

The Textron XX vehicles that he and his teammates will drive this year are built similar to the truck Gordon drove in the recent Baja 1000.

“When we found out that the 2019 Dakar was going to be 90 percent dunes, we looked through our arsenal of vehicles in the shop and said that’s what we need to build,” Gordon said. “We had a car in our inventory (from Baja) and just produced two more of them so we had a team of three.”

Even after a two-year hiatus, Gordon feels both comfortable and confident in his Dakar Rally return.

“I do believe we can win the overall,” he said. “But we’ve also got a fierce group of competitors. There’s 25 guys that can win this race.

“Look at any form of motorsport and very seldom is there 25 guys in any series that can win a race, and I believe there are 25 guys in the Dakar Rally that can actually win.

But Gordon is still confident he can give himself the best birthday present he has ever had.

“There’s going to be a bunch of challenges we’ll have to figure out,” he said. “Survival is the first one. If you look at the event, it’s obviously dangerous. But it’s a lot less dangerous in a car than on a motorcycle. Most of the life-threatening incidents are motorcycle incidents.

“Heart rate means a lot, being 50. I’ll have to manage my control there. But I’ve always been able to drive a car like a video game.

“What I mean by that is I sit back and go for the ride. I don’t really take a lot of aggression into driving, even though it might look like I drive aggressively, but I’m along for the ride. If we continue to drive with that driving style, we could have a shot at our first Dakar win.”

But once again, Gordon goes back to his ride. He knows it will be tested like it never has been.

“We hope it’s reliable enough to go 3,000 miles,” Gordon said. “When you look at this race and compare it to other races, that’s six Indy 500s or six Daytona 500s – or about the first third of the NASCAR season, all in a 10-day period.

“You can imagine you’re going to drive Daytona the first day, then the next day Bristol, then you’re going to drive over and race Richmond, then Martinsville and then you’re going to go to Charlotte.”

One significant change in this year’s Rally is the format. In past years, it has averaged three weeks or more, spread across several countries.

This year, the Rally is just 10 full days of racing – called “specials” (also referred to as stages) – in just one country. While that means less racing, which could boost Gordon’s chances, it also means even more fierce competition in a shorter period of time.

“We’ve got to figure out how not to just win specials, but how to be reliable every day,” Gordon said. “That’s one of the things that’s a challenge. It’s also something you can’t prepare for some times because you never know what the terrain is going to be like the next day.

Robby Gordon during the 2015 Dakar Rally. (Photo: Getty Images)

“We’ve seen torrential downpours where you had to drive through a river to get there. To be honest, today, we’re not prepared to drive through a river – but we’re going to have to be prepared when that happens. And because we race on terrain that normally doesn’t get weather, when we do, we get major flash flooding. There’s so many variables that you cannot anticipate.”

Another thing unique to this year’s Rally is that because it’s all in one country, there is no advance chance to study routes or plan strategy for upcoming days.

“Not only do you not know where you’re going, you don’t know where you’re going until you finish the day before,” Gordon said. “Basically, when you finish (each day), you’re handed a road book. No one has seen the roads (beforehand).

“What that road book is it tells you where you have to go … because nobody knows where the road is going. We try to put together our best mapping program we can, how we can get from Point A to Point B in the most straight, direct line.

“You’ve got to follow the road book pretty good, or you can find yourself seriously lost in the desert.

“Imagine the Daytona 500, you take the green flag and not knowing where the course is at. That’s basically what we’re doing. That’s a pretty cool challenge. … That’s what the Dakar is, it’s the ultimate challenge.”

NOTES: 334 drivers are entered in the field, including a record 17 women. … Gordon won’t be the oldest competitor in the Rally: 56-year-old Carlos Sainz is the defending overall winner from the 2018 Rally (he also won in 2010). Prior to Sainz’s win last year, Stephane Peterhansel won four of the previous six Rallys in 2017, 2016, 2013 and 2012.

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Chase Sexton wins Triple Crown Anaheim 2 Supercross: Levi Kitchen unseats Jett Lawrence in 250s

Supercross Anaheim 2
Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media

Chase Sexton won two of the three races in the Monster Energy Supercross Anaheim 2 Triple Crown and that was enough to overcome a fifth-place finish in Race 2 and give him the overall victory. It was the second Supercross win of his career.

“Super big night for me,” Sexton told NBC Sports’ Will Christien. “After last weekend with that being a struggle, I just need to come out here and stop the bleeding a little bit and I did that tonight.”

Three riders entered the final race of the Triple Crown in a winner-take-all scenario. Sexton, Jason Anderson and Eli Tomac each had a shot at victory. It raised the intensity level for all riders in an evening that featured a lot of comers and goers.

Jason Anderson took the early lead in Race 3, which set him up for the overall victory. Sexton stalked and passed him midway through the race and then a minor mistake late in the race allowed Webb to slip around too. Anderson’s 5-1-3 gave him second overall.

“I had a tough couple of rounds, getting off that Anaheim 1 crash and then last week weekend I fumbled a little bit, but I’m excited to get back on the box and start moving forward,” Anderson told Jason Thomas.

RESULTS: How they finished for the 450 Main in Anaheim 2

Ken Roczen was the model of consistency in the opening rounds and at Anaheim 2. With results of 2-3-4, he earned his second podium of the season and lands him fourth in the standings.

“This was hard earned,” Roczen said after the race. “I completely botched the start and then to have to work my way up. I only happen on the very last lap to step up here on the podium.”

The intensity of the race was a little too much for Tomac. While battling side-by-side with Webb in Race 3 at the one-third mark, Tomac jumped wide and crashed hard. He fell to 14th. He did some damage to his bike and advanced only one position in that race to 13th. His first two races, a third and second, were strong enough to give him sixth overall. He retains the points lead, but it has shrunk to a gap of only four over Sexton and Webb. Tomac’s race results were 3-2-13.

Malcolm Stewart injured late in the week and was not able to mount.

Levi Kitchen became the first rider to unseat Jett Lawrence in the Triple Crown format at Anaheim 2 and won the overall with consistency. In his three races, Kitchen finished 4-2-2 to narrowly edge the winner of the first two races.

“This whole day; this is unbelievable. I took a few good slams in practice and I was down on myself. The first moto I got a good start and got shuffled back, then I knew I just needed to be consistent.

Jett Lawrence saved his best for last.

He entered Race 3 of the Triple Crown three points behind Kitchen after suffering a pair of horrible races. In the first and second 250 races of the night, Lawrence hit the ground in both events, dropping to the final rider in the running order in Race 2 with an early fall. In both races, he was able to overcome his mistake and close the gap so that he had a chance to take his first Triple Crown win of his career.

Lawrence rode to third in Race 1 and sixth in Race 2. In the final race of the night, Lawrence did all he could. He earned the holeshot, but when Kitchen fell in behind him, Lawrence’s fate was sealed. His 3-6-1 tied him in points with Stilez Robertson, but the tiebreaker goes to the final round and his win secured second-place.

“I can definitely say Triple Crowns are not my thing,” Lawrence told NBC Sports Will Christien. “We have one more to try and fix this, so hopefully we can get that done.”

Lawrence will move into the 450 class for the Lucas Oil Motocross outdoor season and his 250 record book will be closed.

Click here for full 250 West Main Results

The best news for Lawrence is the other riders entering this round in the top three had a worse night, so Lawrence leaves Anaheim with a 16-point gap on Cameron McAdoo and 17 over RJ Hampshire.

Roberston finished 6-1-3 to take the final step of the podium.

“Getting that win in the second Main meant a lot,” Roberston told Jason Thomas. “I wish I could have done a little better in the third one, but we’re still up here on the box.”

RJ Hampshire set himself up as the early favorite with his Race 1 win. In Race 2, it all fell apart. He fell in the sand section and damaged his bike, finishing last in that race. The final event of the night for the 250s provided only a 13th-place finish, leaving Hampshire deep in the points.

Cameron McAdoo hard crash in qualification, which was scary news for a team that has seen three of their riders sidelined with injury. McAdoo was never quite able to get his rhythm with an 8-7-5

2023 Race Recaps

San Diego: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence double down
Anaheim 1: Tomac wins opener for the first time

Anaheim 2 coverage

Power Rankings Week 2
SuperMotocross tightens playoff schedule
Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence go two-for-two in San Diego
Results and points after San Diego
Seth Hammaker to miss 250 E season opener with wrist injury
Jo Shimoda joins Seth Hammaker, Austin Forkner with injury
Injury sidelines Austin Forkner for remainder of 2023 SX