Kevin Benavides has won the 2021 Dakar Rally.
Monster Energy Honda teammate Ricky Brabec has finished second ahead of the two KTMs of Sam Sunderland and Daniel Sanders.
Benavides becomes the first South American to win in the bike category, and the Honda 1-2 is the first since 1987 when Cyril Neveu won ahead of Edi Orioli.
For Benavides, the final stage was almost a formality. He took a 5 minute 7 second lead into the stage, but as we have seen in recent days things can change drastically and very quickly.
Sam Sunderland was the only KTM rider who could challenge Benavides for the win, but his hopes faded while he spent 10 minutes searching for a waypoint in the dunes early in the special.
Brabec took the stage lead by the first timing point, but couldn’t pull back the 7 minute deficit he had going into the final stage.
This is Benavides’ fifth participation in the Dakar and the victory is sweet.
“I’ve won the Dakar – I’m so, so happy!”, he said in the post stage interview.
“It was absolutely crazy. I started third and after fifty kilometres I was in front opening the stage. I feel that everything was complicated, because Ricky started to catch up with me. I started to push a lot, all day, and stayed focused, so I did a good job today.”
His rally almost ended after an incident during Stage 5 broke his nose and injured his ankle.
“On stage 5 I was worried, because I crashed so fast and hit my head and my ankle and felt a lot of pain. On that day I said maybe the Dakar is finished for me. But I continued pushing. Now I still have some pain, but at the moment I am more happy than in pain, so it’s no problem.”
Despite that incident he finished Stage 5 in the overall lead. Although he dropped back in the next few stages, he remained in the top 5 for the rest of the rally.
By the end of Stage 9 he was back up to second place behind Nacho Cornejo, and Cornejo’s exit from the rally in the very next stage handed Benavides the overall lead.
From there it was a matter of riding to defend that lead on his way to his first Dakar title.
“I am really proud to be the first South American winner. My dream was also to make history and now I am the first South American guy to win the Dakar. That is amazing for me.”
Daniel Sanders finished the best of the Australians with a solid 4th place.
We’ve been predicting for several days that the rookie would finish in the top 5, and was in a good place for a podium if any of the leading three riders had an incident.
The young gun has proven that the KTM factory’s decision to recruit him was a good one.
Albury based rider Andrew Houlihan, also in his first Dakar, was another rider to overcome adversity in order to finish the 2021 Dakar Rally.
Andrew broke his scaphoid on day 3 and has been riding each day in intense pain and with his wrist heavily strapped.
Completing the event has been a dream of Andrew’s since he stepped into the international rally scene in 2018.
The journey to the Dakar podium has been a tough one for the 51 year old – a serious crash in his first international rally almost claimed his life and the determination he has shown to firstly be at this year’s Dakar and then to finish it is indeed inspirational.
Andrew has been riding with the Nomadas Adventure team since entering his first international rally and his performance, along with that of his long time teammate, Mexican Pablo Guillen, has gained the team sponsorship from Coca-Cola Racing.
Andrew finished the rally in 50th place.
Pablo Guillen is one of the most colourful characters in the rally scene – who else would arrive on the final podium in a Mexican poncho and sombrero – and he finished in 48th.
In the lead up to the 2021 Dakar, Andrew had been training with another Australian and good mate Michael Burgess.
Michael runs Destination Dakar Road Book Adventures, a rally navigation training and tour company in Bendigo Victoria.
He also competed in the Dakar for the first time this year and his consistency in the event rewarded him with a 27th place. His video reports on his Facebook page throughout the event have been entertaining.
The final placings in the 2021 Dakar Rally are:
- 1. Kevin Benavides (#47 Monster Energy Honda)
- 2. Ricky Brabec (#1 Monster Energy Honda) +0:04:56
- 3. Sam Sunderland (#5 Red Bull KTM) +0:15:57
- 4. Daniel Sanders (#21 KTM Factory) +0:38:52
- 5. Skyler Howes (#9 BAS Dakar KTM Racing) +0:52:33
- 27. Michael Burgess (#80 BAS Dakar KTM Racing) +10:53:30
- 48. Pablo Guillen (#35 Coca-Cola Nomadas Adventure) +24:09:46
- 50. Andrew Houlihan (#62 Coca-Cola Nomadas Adventure) +25:53:06
Motorcycle Life is supporting Andrew Houlihan and Pablo Guillen in their rookie year at the 2021 Dakar Rally.
Andrew is also posting a daily diary on Speedcafe.