Dakar Rally 2016 Predictions
Dakar Rally 2016 Predictions
Although it feels a bit strange to not be in Argentina for the start of this year’s Dakar Rally, I must say I am nearly as nervous and excited to watch this epic story unfold from afar as I would be if I were on the start line in Buenos Aires. The guys from Dirt Rider have asked me to provide my insights and observations throughout the 13 stages of this year’s Dakar Rally, I hope that I can offer a glimpse into the inner workings of the rally, team tactics, and the mindset of the top riders. My goal is to give readers something more than just the normal “copy and paste” from the Dakar website or posting of team press releases.
Today’s prologue is considered Stage “0” and has no bearing on the overall classification; riders will race over a very short 11km stage to set their starting order for tomorrow’s first real Rally sage. No surprises today, fast guys went fast and slow guys went, well, as fast as they could.
Lately I have been hit with the same question from just about everyone I run into, “Who’s going to win Dakar?” My typical answer is, “I have no idea!” That’s not entirely true, I do have some idea, I’m just not willing to come out and say it. Here is why - simply put, the race is wide open this year, there are several favorites but for the first time since the inaugural race back in 1979 there is no defending champion. For the last 10 years Cyril Despres and Marc Coma have owned the Dakar, taking 5 wins apiece. With Cyril moving on to 4-wheels, driving for the heavily funded Peugeot team and Marc taking over as sporting director for the Dakar Organization, the Rally is left with no champion. The current field of riders will no longer have the tracks of these two great navigators to follow when things get complicated. This year we will to find out who truly has real navigation skills and who has been hanging back and following tracks through the tricky sections. Additionally, an exciting new crop of riders will be introduced this year, guys like Antoine Meo, Ivan Cervantes and Pierre Renet; these riders can do things on a motorcycle that Coma and Despres never even dreamed of. All of this adds up to make this year’s Dakar the most exciting race in recent history.
So here are my predictions for the top five, in no particular order. The chain of events has already begun to unfold; now there is only 9000km left to play out.
Paulo Goncalves #2 (PRT) Team HRC
From my perspective, Paulo is the best true rally racer in the world right now. He has what it takes to win the Dakar; he is smart, fast, consistent and a solid navigator. I think his only weakness is his loyalty to Joan Barreda; if things get close between the two Paulo will most likely be forced to step aside for Barreda.
Toby Price #3 (AUS) Team Red Bull KTM
Toby Price is a Beast! He is one of the only riders in the world with the size and strength to truly manhandle a fully loaded rally bike. After finishing 3rd overall as a rookie in 2015 on a nearly stock KTM 450RR, Toby was signed by the Factory Red Bull KTM Team. I suspect that 2016 will be another learning year for him but he is way too talented to overlook for a top overall finish.
Joan Barreda #6 (ESP) Team HRC
Joan Barreda has everything he needs to win the Dakar. He has a team that is 100% behind him, an incredible motorcycle, and heaps of talent. Honda has invested millions of dollars into their rally program so that Barreda can win the Dakar. The only thing keeping Joan Barreda from winning The Dakar is Joan Barreda, he has a reputation for riding over his head and crashing big. He won’t be able to get away with this for much longer; if he doesn’t settle down and let the race come to him he may find himself sitting on the sidelines with a broken bike or worse.
Jordi Viladoms #11 (ESP) Team Red Bull KTM
Jordi is a true Dakar veteran; he has served as loyal water boy to Marc Coma for the past nine years. For 2016 his role has evolved from water boy to mentor, helping KTM groom the younger, faster Walkner and Price. A great navigator, I think Jordi will be up front right to the end. Although he doesn’t have the raw speed of a Price or Barreda, his experience will keep him in contact with the lead group, and when navigation gets difficult expect to see most of the top riders on his wheel.
Helder Rodrigues #7(PRT) Yamaha
Helder is a great rider and a great guy, he has plenty of Dakar experience, and if things go his way I expect to see him up front in the general classification. The Yamaha team doesn’t have near the funding of Honda or KTM but their program has come a long way in recent years.
Aside from the elite five, I expect to see quite a few different stage winners this year. On any given day there are 15 riders capable of winning the stage. Here are a few riders I expect to see up front.