As the Dakar Rally enters its final stage in Saudi Arabia, two Southern Californians have a chance to make history in a grueling race that no American has ever won.
Casey Currie of Corona holds a 45-minute lead in the side-by-side vehicle class and Ricky Brabec of Hesperia has a 14-minute edge in the motorcycle category.
Both men have given themselves a shot at victory by taking a conservative approach on Thursday’s penultimate segment, which stretched through hundreds of miles of sand dunes.
“We didn’t push hard but enough to keep our lead where it was at,” Currie said. “One more day of racing and let’s get this wrapped up.”
More than 350 vehicles in various categories — including cars, trucks and quads — entered the Dakar this year, embarking on a 4,881-mile route divided into 12 daily stages.
The famed “rally raid” dates to the late 1970s, with the original course running from Paris to Dakar, the capital of Senegal. It was held in South America for more than a decade before moving to the Persian Gulf this year.
Ranking among the toughest challenges in all of motor sports, it forces racers to negotiate harsh terrain at high speeds while finding their way with a compass and map. Flat tires and broken axles must be repaired on the fly.
More serious accidents are common; the death of a Portuguese motorcyclist earlier this week added to a long history of fatalities.
Currie is making his second attempt at Dakar, accompanied by co-driver Sean Berriman, who is acting as navigator. Brabec is on his fifth try.
Last year, the rider held a late lead but had to retire with a blown engine.
“It was a massive disappointment,” Brrabec said.
On Friday, he and the rest of the field will start at the town of Haradh, racing to the outskirts of Riyadh.
Brabec sounded optimistic, saying: “I just want to keep this good vibe going.”