Americans still riding as Dakar Rally hits halfway point

Americans still riding as Dakar Rally hits halfway point
Ricky Brabec competes on Day 5 (Jan. 7) of the Dakar Rally, from Jujuy, Argentina, to Uyuni, Bolivia. (Dean Mouhtaropoulos / Getty Images)

Midway through the 14-day Dakar Rally off-road race in South America, U.S. motorcycle riders continue to hold their own and are maintaining positions in the top 100.

As of Day 8 of the grueling two-week competition, which features daily stretches of up to 600 miles of difficult terrain, newcomer Ricky Brabec and his custom Honda leads the pack of five Americans.


The motorcycle division has already seen some attrition. The field of 136 two-wheeled starters is down to about 100 racers.

Heavy storms, torrential rains and massive mud holes have slowed some riders and even led to cancellation of some stages of the off-road rally, which began as a Europe-to-Africa race in 1977, and moved to South America in 2009.

The 14-day route began in Buenos Aires, curved into Bolivia and is set to l end Jan. 16 in the Argentine town of Rosario.

Australian Toby Price, on a KTM, leads in overall standings, having won three of the first seven stages of the race. He is followed closely by Portugal's Paulo Goncalves and Slovakia's Stefan Svitko.

Among the Americans, Brabec and his Honda are in 13th place. Ian Blythe, on a KTM, is in 29th. Alexander Smith, son of legendary off-road champion Malcolm Smith, has ridden his Husqvarna to 45th position. Smith's teammate, C.R. Gittere, also astride a Husqvarna, was said to be in 83rd position at the close of the most recent stage.

Spaniard Laia Sanz, the rally's top-ranked female racer, has ridden her custom KTM to 12th place.

The American riders have been plagued by typical Dakar difficulties. Smith's machine had electrical issues near the beginning of the race. Brabec crashed and crushed his exhaust system. Gittere fell and damaged his front brake. None have been seriously injured in the competition, which is considered among the most physically damaging, and deadly, of the world's power sports events.

Veteran rally driver Sebastien Loeb, operating a Peugeot, is leading in the car category, followed by fellow Peugeot drivers Stephane Peterhansel and Carlos Sainz.

Peugeot's dominant performance has led some drivers -- among them outspoken American racer Robby Gordon -- to suggest that the French company has bent or broken the regulations for engine size or type.

The race has thus far seen a single fatality -- a 63-year-old spectator who was reportedly struck and killed during Stage 7.

Since its inception, the race has claimed the lives of 64 people, including 23 competitors.

Twitter: @misterfleming