Monday, June 24, 2024

2024 Desafio Ruta 40: Ricky Brabec edges out Schareina in Honda RallyGP top 4 lockout

Monster Energy Honda Rally Team might have strength in numbers, but their riders know how to flex their muscles. All five members placed in the RallyGP top six at the Desafío Ruta 40, won every stage, swept the podium in all five legs, and sealed a 1–2–3–4 finish spearheaded by Ricky Brabec.

Brabec, making his first World Rally-Raid Championship start since winning the Dakar Rally in January, battled with defending race winner Tosha Schareina and Adrien Van Beveren throughout. Schareina won the first stage before Van Beveren did so followed by Brabec in Stage #3, the latter taking the outright lead and never relinquishing it despite the narrow gap. Entering the last day, Schareina only trailed by a minute and twenty-second seconds; although he won the stage, he was unable to close the gap enough to overtake Brabec.

By the end, Brabec only beat Schareina by fifteen seconds in the closest W2RC RallyGP overall margin of victory. He is the first American to win the DR 40 since the late Kurt Caselli in 2013.

“It’s been a big final week. It’s been stressful but it’s good to be back,” Brabec stated. “The team rode really well, the mechanics did a good job, and so I think we’re in great shape heading to Morocco. It was a great day, although it was stressful as I didn’t want to lose all the time I’d made up and Tosha put some time on me today as he’s good at this road-style rallying and I’m not the best at it. I tried my best to not lose too much time and in the end, everything came out pretty well. This has been a really good confidence booster moving forward and so I’ll be happy to get home and do some more testing with the bike and make it another level better.”

Fellow American Honda rider Skyler Howes was too far back to catch Van Beveren for third, but kept W2RC points leader Ross Branch of rival Hero MotoSports at bay for fourth with the help of back-to-back runner-up stage finishes. Howes beat Branch by 1:59.

“It has been an amazing rally for the Monster Energy Honda Team with our riders taking the top four spots and sixth overall, which is something that’s not happened in rally for a long time,” offered team manager Ruben Faria. Honda had also won the revived DR 40 in 2023 with Schareina, who was not part of the factory team at the time and technically competed as a satellite. “I’m really happy with the whole team, they did a really good job and it was a great performance by the riders on the Honda CRF450 Rally, which performed superbly throughout the week to bring us this fantastic result at the end. I’d like to thank all the team for the amazing job that they’ve done, all the people in Japan that work on the bike and the riders too.”

While he and Hero had little answer for Honda, Branch staved off Pablo Quintanilla to prevent a top five sweep; he was the only non-Honda to record a stage podium of some form when he finished third in the Prologue. Branch also continues to hold the championship lead entering the season-ending Rallye du Maroc, though the margin has decreased significantly from leading Van Beveren by twenty-one after Portugal to being ahead of Brabec by nine and Van Beveren by sixteen. With the winning rider earning twenty-five points at most (unlike in the FIA classes, FIM does not award bonus points for stage victories), the three are the only riders in mathematical contention for the title.

Hero also lost the top spot in the manufacturer’s points battle and trails by twenty-two.

“Excellent route, and a lot of hard work, definitely a tough rally, but I enjoyed it well,” said Branch. “Our competition has been really strong here, so we’ve got some work to do before we head to our next race in Morocco. We continue to hold the World Championship lead position, so we’re still in a good place. I look forward to defending it again at the last round.”

José Ignacio Cornejo finished a distant last in class, though his performance is excused as it was his first race with Hero after moving over from Honda.

“I’m quite happy to have joined my new team at a race in my region,” Cornejo stated. “The Hero MotoSports team has welcomed me very well, and everyone has been working hard to get me adapted to the bike I’m a bit disappointed with not being able to give them the expected results, but we’ll work hard from now to reach the next race stronger. I’m really stoked for my teammates Ross and Basti (Sebastian Bühler, finished seventh) for their good results. We’ll all work together to gather the best results in the final championship round in Morocco.”

Although the 2024 RallyGP battle has been Hero versus Honda, the DR 40 marked the return of Pierer Mobility AG’s marques GasGas and Husqvarna after skipping all but Dakar due to budget cuts; KTM did not have any riders in Argentina as Matthias Walkner and Kevin Benavides recover from injuries. GasGas’ Daniel Sanders ended up being the only Pierer-affiliated rider to finish the race in eighth. His team-mate Sam Sunderland retired after reporting vision problems in Stage #3, running eighth at the time of his exit.

Defending World Champion Luciano Benavides of Husqvarna, who finished second to Schareina in the 2023 DR 40, crashed in Stage #1 and suffered a partially fractured right femur.

“There’s still some areas I need to improve on,” commented Sanders. “I came into this rally fighting fit and didn’t quite get the result I was after.

“We’ll come out swinging for Morocco.”

RallyGP overall results

Finish Number Rider Team Time Margin
1 9 Ricky Brabec Monster Energy Honda Rally Team 18:08:37 Leader
2 68 Tosha Schareina Monster Energy Honda Rally Team 18:08:52 + 0:15
3 42 Adrien Van Beveren Monster Energy Honda Rally Team 18:14:10 + 5:33
4 10 Skyler Howes Monster Energy Honda Rally Team 18:21:35 + 12:58
5 46 Ross Branch Hero MotoSports 18:23:34 + 14:57
6 7 Pablo Quintanilla Monster Energy Honda Rally Team 18:32:32 + 23:55
7 14 Sebastian Bühler Hero MotoSports 18:34:02 + 25:25
8 5 Daniel Sanders* Red Bull GasGas Factory Racing 18:58:08 + 49:31
9 11 José Ignacio Cornejo Hero MotoSports 19:29:16 + 1:20:39
DNF 1 Luciano Benavides* Husqvarna Factory Racing DNF N/A
DNF 4 Sam Sunderland* Red Bull GasGas Factory Racing DNF N/A
* – Not competing in World Rally-Raid Championship

RallyGP stage winners

Stage Rider Time
Prologue Tosha Schareina 16:45.0
Stage #1 Ricky Brabec 3:59:37
Stage #2 Adrien Van Beveren 4:18:42
Stage #3 Ricky Brabec 3:15:15
Stage #4 Tosha Schareina 3:37:25
Stage #5 Tosha Schareina 2:35:50

W2RC RallyGP standings

For readability, competitors registered for the championship who have not earned points are excluded.

Riders’ standings

Rank Rider Points Margin
1 Ross Branch 72 Leader
2 Ricky Brabec 63 – 9
3 Adrien Van Beveren 56 – 16
4 Tosha Schareina 45 – 27
5 Pablo Quintanilla 37 – 35
6 Sebastian Bühler 29 – 43
7 José Ignacio Cornejo 28 – 44
8 Skyler Howes 26 – 46
9 Aaron Marè 25 – 47

Manufacturers’ standings

Rank Manufacturer Points Margin
1 Honda 148 Leader
2 Hero 126 – 22