Brabec, Pelayo take home Sonora Rally glory

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Image by Steve Green

By Marty Fiolka |

March 21, 2020 3:24 PM

PHOTO: 2020 Sonora Rally overall winner Ricky Brabec (center) is flanked by second-place finisher Skyler Howes (at left) and third-placed Bill Conger.

American desert motorcycle racer Ricky Brabec once again displayed his mastery of international rally raid competition, taking top honors in the 2020 Yokohama Sonora rally, the last major motorsport event for the foreseeable future.

Earlier this year, the California native made motorsports history as the first American ever to win the Dakar Rally. Brabec continued that streak in Sonora, overcoming a late mishap with barbed wire and 13 minutes of penalty points aboard his No. 1 Monster Energy Honda CRF450 to win the event, taking 11h22m09s to earn the victory.

Brabec’s second consecutive Sonora Rally victory came via some late rally navigational prowess that propelled him to a slim 50-second victory.

“The 2020 Sonora Rally was really great for me, the team, Honda, Monster and everyone involved,” shared Brabec. “Personally, I like this event after Dakar — it’s just great to be here learning and always improving. The event is really nice. It allows a lot of people to feel the rally experience and kind of get a taste of what the Dakar would be like.”

“Now that this is said and done, we’re going to go back home and figure out where we slacked, then work on that,” he added. “We’ll be back for the 2021 Sonora Rally. Hopefully more people will also come and enjoy the experience. I know next year I’ll have a teammate or two joining. Unfortunately, this year, we had the coronavirus, and a lot of people stayed home. But it is pretty cool being here, (knowing) it is the only real event going on in the world right now – especially in motorsports.”

Privateer Pro Moto rider Skyler Howes and his No. 2 Husqvarna 450 had been at the top of the scoreboard most of the week, but in the end succumbed to Brabec’s vast experience in this type of rally.

“He was going full gas and nailed the navigation, which is really hard to do, so I’m super impressed,” Howes said of Brabec. “I’m just glad I could keep the pressure on and make a race out of it.”

Dakar and Sonora Rally rider Bill Conger (No. 9) came home in third place overall, while Wes VanNieuenhuise, riding the No. 5 KTM 790, won the Adventure Class and placed fourth overall in the Moto standings.

Colton Udall came home in sixth overall, but won the coveted Road to Dakar prize, earning him a free entry to the 2021 Dakar Rally.

The final day of competition in the UTV categories also saw its share of late-rally drama. A larger set of dunes put the No. 64 Can-Am of PJ Jones and navigator Kyle Vestermark into a downhill roll twice before a timely twist of fate would allow them to finish. The second time, they were helped by Luis Pelayo and Abelardo Ruinova in the No. 63 Monster Energy Can-Am, a duo that themselves had suffered a near-devastating roll in a prior stage. The Mexican team nonetheless manage to limp over the finish line, taking home a rather remarkable overall victory in the UTV division and earning a free entry to the infamous Rallye du Maroc in October by winning the Sonora Rally UTV Challenge.

“The other day the Sonora Desert tried to beat me. It hit me very hard and almost destroyed my car; but I managed to complete the stage,” said Pelayo before the final day. “Tomorrow is revenge day, so I’m prepared to dominate those imposing dunes.”

A familiar figure in many desert racing series, Sara Price and her navigator Kellon Walch came into the final day leading in their No. 78 VP Fuels Polaris RZR. They suffered through some setbacks in the last stages of the event, though, including running out of gas, dropping them to runnerup status in the final UTV standings.

“Sonora Rally was an incredible experience. I’ve never raced anything like it in my life, and I look forward to doing more of it,” said Price after completing her first rally raid. “We had a blast in every stage, (and were) competitive in every stage with a bone-stock Polaris RZR.

“Kellon being an experienced navigator helped me out tremendously learning the ropes,” Price continued. “We had some mechanical failures, and penalties set us back; but we are overall very excited about the outcome and the experience of the rally!”

Monkey Business teammates Oscar Ramirez and Marc Kola (No. 77 Can-Am) sailed home to the San Luis Colorado finish line in third.

With that, the 2020 edition of the Yokohama Sonora Rally presented by Method Wheels came to a conclusion. While the end of any racing event is bittersweet, set against the backdrop of today’s international pandemic these final exhaust notes carrying across the Mexican desert strike an even more melancholy tone.

When will international motorsports return? There are no clear answers, but we can thank those organizers and teams behind the Sonora Rally for giving us all one extra week of motorized competition, adventure and drama. Gracias.

MOTO OVERALL FINAL RESULTS

UTV OVERALL FINAL RESULTS

Ricky Brabec, Sonora Rally, Off Road

Marty Fiolka

Marty Fiolka

A lifelong enthusiast of off road motorsports, Marty Fiolka raced his first Baja 1000 in 1992 and still enjoys getting behind the wheel via his annual BFG Team Rennsport NORRA Mexican 1000 effort.

A graduate of University California at Long Beach, he founded The Rennsport Group in 1995 to execute motorsports public relations programs for Nissan, Infinity, Exxon, Mitsubishi, SCORE International and later became the editorial and marketing director for Dirtsports Magazine. Marty is a current contributor to RACER Magazine and RACER.com as well as operating the promotional agency for Crandon International Raceway and annual Red Bull Crandon World Cup.

Fiolka was a 2014 Inductee to the Off Road Motorsports Hall of Fame (ORMHOF) and was instrumental in founding the Wide Open Baja adventure business and Ensenada’s Horsepower Ranch. He also served as the associate producer of the original Dust to Glory documentary film and author of two books; 1000 Miles to Glory: The Baja 1000 Story and The Big Blue M: The History of McMillin Racing.

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