South Africa’s hunt for Dakar Rally success in 2019 will be spearheaded by offroad legend, Kenny Gilbert.
The five-time National Cross Country Champion will draw on his years of experience to muster up the guts and grit that conquering the dunes of Peru will take.
Unusually for riders of his calibre, Gilbert did not grow up riding motorcycles. The first time he learned to ride a bike was at the age of 14, but soon became a household name in world of cross country racing.
As he sets his sights on a three year plan to break into what he hopes will be a long career in rally racing, we catch up with the rider about realising his Dakar dreams.
How much does it motivate you that another Southern African rider like Ross Branch is also competing?
It’s a really good thing that we’re both racing at the same time. I know he’s working hard, and that pushes me to do the same. We are some of Southern Africa’s fastest riders, so it definitely motivates me that he’s also doing the race.
What are your ambitions for the 2019 Dakar Rally?
My first goal is to get to the finish line, and get as much experience as possible. It’s a really dangerous course, so I’m just going to follow the map and ride my own race.
When did you first start taking the necessary steps towards your Dakar dream?
Dakar has been a dream of mine since I started racing 16 years ago. I really began thinking seriously about doing it five years ago, but I just wasn’t ready yet. I went to watch it in 2018 and that was the deciding factor to fully commit – I knew it was time.
How do you feel your training has gone?
I’m very happy with how my training has gone and the state of my fitness at the moment. I’ve been focusing on sand especially the last month. So overall my fitness is there, I’ve just been sharpening my sand skills.
What are some of the reasons that Kenny Gilbert could surprise some of the top riders at Dakar 2019?
A top 20 at the Dakar would be a dream come true, especially with the level of riders at the moment. When times get tough, I know how to find an extra gear. My strength is to “vasbyt”, and that probably comes from the 13 times that I’ve finished the Roof of Africa. I’m hoping that the stages at Dakar are going to be really hard as this plays to my mental and physical ability to persevere.
How prepared are you and your team for the logistical challenges of the Dakar?
I’m definitely prepared. The team that I’ve chosen for Dakar is called Bas Dakar Racing. They’re really experienced and have 8 Dakar Rally events under the belt! They know KTM and Husqvarna really well. I’m also super confident with the spares, assistance and support that comes with riding a Husqvarna.
What are your long-term goals for the Dakar?
Dakar is ultimately a long-term goal because I want to make Rally racing a career. The dream is to get a factory deal, so for the next three years that’s what I’m going to be pushing for. The 2019 Dakar is going to be a learning curve for me, and if all goes well by 2020 I want to try and go for a solid result. I would also love to race the Cross Country Rallies World Championship that runs throughout the year.