April brought with it the first round of the FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship, with the participation of the Monster Energy Honda Team, who begin a programme of preparation that will ultimately culminate in the Dakar 2018.
Monster Energy Honda Team were back in action as the FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship got underway with the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge. The race held in the small, yet stunning, setting overlooking the Persian Gulf, allowed the team to show they are firing on all cylinders and capable of outclassing competitors.
Competition once again resumed after the break since the Dakar Rally 2017 with the Abu Dhabi race. This will be followed shortly by the second date in the world championship calendar – the Sealine Qatar.
This year’s edition of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge saw Monster Energy Honda Team line up Paulo Gonçalves and Kevin Benavides, who had their chances of winning considerably reduced after the opening day’s short Super Special prologue, which ending up heavily influencing the overall outcome of the race.
In the first stage, the two riders aboard the Honda CRF450 RALLYs took a while to get back into the swing of things, but managed top-ten finishes nevertheless. Portuguese Paulo Gonçalves improved considerably over the following days to hold first place in the overall standings on days two and four. Paulo finished the rally in fourth outright after a tightly-fought finale. Kevin Benavides, meanwhile, in a bid to overcome a hand injury picked up shortly before the Dakar 2017, started cautiously but was soon going from strength to strength. The Argentinean rider even managed to clinch a spectacular stage win. A problem on the third day put paid to any hopes of overall glory but Kevin continues to accumulate valuable points in the championship.
Next date for the Monster Energy Honda Team is the Sealine Qatar, from 19th to 22nd April, which will once again feature the Gonçalves and Benavides duo. The most recent participation of the Honda CRF450 RALLY riders in Qatar in 2015 finished with two podium places: Joan Barreda in second and Paulo Gonçalves third. In 2014 Joan Barreda took top honours.