Monster Energy Honda Team got the rally season underway with the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge. The first round of the FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship saw, for the first time, the participation of all five team riders getting their first post-Dakar taste of desert racing.
Kevin Benavides’ third place overall and the victory in the Junior category of José Ignacio Cornejo can be considered a fair overall outcome for Monster Energy Honda Team. The squad, back in action for the first time since the Dakar, progressively eased their way into the race. The hazardous characteristics of the first round of the world championship meant that no precaution was too much. The high speed open desert course, full of barely visible dunes and cut dunes made for a highly treacherous and complicated ride. Another point on the positive side of the balance sheet was that none of the five Honda CRF450 RALLYs produced even the slightest setback despite the demanding conditions. There was no shortage of extreme temperatures hovering around 48 degrees, plus huge amounts of sand and dust-filled tracks to deal with.
Argentine rider Kevin Benavides set a swift pace throughout the week and was rewarded with a podium place. Portuguese rider Paulo Gonçalves returned to competition after the injuries that ruled him out of the most recent Dakar 2018, just days before it was due to start. Paulo grew in strength by the day and, despite a fall, managed to post a respectable fifth place overall.
Also getting back into racing after the two-month hiatus were American Ricky Brabec, sixth overall, and the team’s latest signing Chilean José Ignacio Cornejo, who in addition to finishing eighth, managed to clinch the Junior title. Michael Metge, unable to find the correct suspension settings early on in the rally, had to eventually settle for ninth.
The team is not scheduled to take part in the Qatar Rally, the next round of the World Rally Championship, but will be back to race the Merzouga Rally, in Morocco, from April 16 – 20. The technical scrutineering will take place on the 15th. Joan Barreda is expected to rejoin the team after recovering from the wrist operation that he underwent in February.