A Crash On The “Highway To Ha’il”

The legendary Dakar Rally-Raid launched out on its annual run over the New Years weekend, and already two frontrunners and podium favorites have crashed out of the race- defending champion and two time race winner Sam Sunderland of Great Britain, and 2020 Dakar champ Ricky Brabec of the United States. This opens the doors for hard chargers Daniel Sanders of Australia and young Americans Mason Klein and Skyler Howes to make their runs at glory in the harsh lands of the Saudi Arabian peninsula.

American Mason Klein hard charging in Stage 1 of the Dakar Rally-Raid 2023. Photo ASO/C. Lopez

We first followed the Dakar Rally in 2020, the year Ricky Brabec won the motorbike class, the first American to ever clinch that title in the race’s history. Brabec took 2nd place in 2021 behind Monster Energy Honda teammate Kevin Benavides, who became the first South American to ever win the race. Brabec missed the podium entirely in 2022, finishing 7th overall, so was fired up to snag his second title this year. “Anything less than winning is unacceptable, that’s always the mindset,” stated Ricky before the race. “We’ve tasted victory in the long haul of the Dakar and we’re ready for another.”

Ricky Brabec gearing up for the pre-dawn start of his ill-fated Stage 3. Photo ASO/J. Delfosse

Alas, it was not to be. After leading the points the first two stages, Brabec crashed during Stage 3, about 170 miles into the grueling leg that in fact would be cut short later in the day due to worsening weather conditions. Ricky went down hard, experiencing severe pain in several cervical vertebrae, as well as burning sensations down his neck and shoulder. Dakar Rally medical staff helicoptered him out to a hospital, where thankfully they found no broken bones or vertebrae. Still, Brabec had to withdraw from this year’s race, unable to recover the points lost but more importantly, to insure his personal recovery.

Brabec throttling through the vast wastelands of the Saudi desert during Stage 3. Photo ASO/E. Vargiolu

Ricky stated on his Instagram page later at the hospital, “From past injuries this was the same feeling as breaking my neck and with the hardware installed it’s a scary feeling not knowing what has happened. Sorry to have let the team down and only show a short performance… What we put ourselves through and how many km’s/miles we cover in the open desert is mind blowing and nothing will make this one feel as good as coming back next year to fight for the top spot.”

Ricky kicking it in an earlier stage. Photo ASO/F. Gooden

First begun in 1977, the rally was originally known as the “Paris-Dakar Rally”, starting in the French capital and winding 6,200 miles across Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, concluding in the Senegal capital of Dakar. The race was held in this manner until 2008 when it was cancelled for a year due to security fears in Mauritania. The rally then resumed in South America for 10 years before landing in Saudi Arabia for the 2020 race. The race still is known as the “Dakar Rally-Raid”, in homage to the origins of the event.

Dakar 2023 route map. Over 3100 miles of some of the toughest terrain to traverse on the planet. Map by Dakar 2023.

The Dakar Rally is considered to be the most demanding, dangerous, and grueling race on the planet. Held entirely off-road, the endurance race includes motorcycle, car, truck, quad and UTV categories. The 2023 rally is running across 16 days, with 14 stages to complete. The racers traditionally must cover distances from 400-600 miles per day. All off-road. Crossing sand dunes, vast open desert, mud, rocks, and “erg”, among other topography. Many never finish all stages. Those who do enjoin themselves to a very small, exclusive club. These are the toughest moto racers in the world.

Hope to see you back next year, Ricky. Photo ASO/F. Gooden

We wish Ricky and Sam speedy recoveries from their crashes, and will be monitoring Skyler’s and Mason’s progress during the upcoming race stages. If you’ve never followed this amazing race before, you can find a treasure trove of information, photos, video footage, and daily stage standings at the Dakar Rally-Raid site:


*All photos courtesy of Dakar Rally/ASO

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