After a two-month hiatus, Monster Energy Honda Team returns once more to competition. The Honda CRF450 RALLY will be back in the fray this week with the dispute of the first World Rally Raid event, the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge.

The 2018 FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship opens this week with the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, the first date on the calendar which the Monster Energy Honda Team will take part in. Team HRC is gunning this year, more than ever, for the world championship, with the participation of its full arsenal of official riders: Portuguese Paulo Gonçalves, winner in the 2014 edition, and Argentine Kevin Benavides, current world champion runner-up, will spearhead the effort. They will be supported by American Ricky Brabec, Frenchman Michael Metge and the squad’s latest signing Chilean Nacho Cornejo. Joan Barreda will not be in the race as he is still on the road to recovery after his wrist operation in mid-February.

There will be some thirty competitors on the start-line for the race, all going in search of victory, in the six-day competition covering more than 2000 kilometres.

Day Stage Total km
24 March SSS – Stage 1
25 March Stage 2 418.38 km
26 March Stage 3 519.71 km
27 March Stage 4 372.55 km
28 March Stage 5 390.66 km
29 March Stage 6 356.06 km

Cross-Country Rallies World Championship

24-29 March Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge United Arab Emirates
17-22 April Qatar Cross Country Rally Qatar
29 July – 5 August Inka Desert Rally Peru
11-19 August Atacama Rally Chile
25-31 August Desafío Ruta 40 Argentina
3-9 October Morocco Rally Morocco

Kevin Benavides 2

I feel very good to be starting this first world championship race. I returned to the bike recently, after the Dakar, and I have had some very good sensations. I feel very at ease, very strong, and I have my sights set on the world championship title, which I have as a career goal. Last year I arrived in terrible shape. This time, the conditions are different. We can expect the desert of Abu Dhabi to be dangerous, so it will be necessary to be cautious. The goal is to try to be on the podium.

Paulo Goncalves 4

Well, after focusing on recovering from the injury that prevented me from participating in the last Dakar, I think that the time has come to compete again on the Honda CRF450 RALLY. I was training recently and my feelings were not bad, so let's try to have a good race here in Abu Dhabi and start the world championship on a good foot.

Ricky Brabec 11

The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge was my first rally with Team HRC Rally, in 2015. I am very excited to return to the competition after the Dakar, and to return here, with the dunes of a desert as special as this and to have fun on the rally bike. This was the first time I rode the Honda CRF450 RALLY and the experience wasn’t bad at all...

Michael Metge

I'm looking forward to this first race of the season after the bitter taste that I was left with after the last Dakar. I think here I can ride pretty well in the dunes as I showed in Peru last year. I will try to get back to the good feeling and the pace that I had at the end of last season. I hope everything goes well.

Private: José Ignacio “Nacho” Cornejo 15

I am very happy to go to my first race as an official HRC driver, since on the Dakar I was really a stand-in. It went well and now I am here, so I hope you can confirm that the decision was a good one. In Abu Dhabi I’ve competed twice and it went well. I feel almost at home in a desert full of sand. I would like to be in the top five, since last time I finished seventh. I am very motivated; if I can stay focused, we can get good results.

Private: Raul Castells

Monster Energy Honda Team Manager

We are happy to be in a World Championship again. We have come here highly motivated and enthusiastic for this first race in Abu Dhabi, which is very picturesque and interesting. The desert and the dunes here will start to test all the riders from the first day in this start of the World Championship. We have come with practically all the equipment and all five riders and we hope to play a key role. Anyway, we must be cautious because the season is long. We are here to race with the team and prepare for the season, which, as usual, will culminate with the Dakar Rally.

Location Information

The legendary UAE Desert Challenge, one of the world’s most prestigious international cross country rallies founded by Emirati Motorsport legend, former EMSO President and the new FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem back in 1991, and over the years has seen many of the biggest names in international motorsport tackle the… read more.

Abu Dhabi - United Arab Emirates - View in Google Maps


2021 Matthias Walkner (KTM)
2019 Sam Sunderland (KTM)
2018 Pablo Quintanilla (Husqvarna)
2017 Sam Sunderland (KTM)
2016 Toby Price (KTM)
2015 Marc Coma (KTM)
2014 Paulo Gonçalves (Honda)