How Casey Currie Became the First American to Win Dakar
We compiled all the day-to-day, stage-by-stage notes from Casey Currie Racing during their bid to win the 2020 Dakar rally to show you how Casey Currie and his navigator, Sean Berriman, were able to conquer the world’s toughest off-road race in the SSV category.
This wasn’t Casey’s first Dakar. Here’s what he had to say about last year’s race, just before competing this year,
“My first Dakar experience was a lot harder than I had anticipated. All the other rallies that I had taken part in before don’t stack up to the Dakar. Everything is more difficult: navigation, the length of the stages and the competition…I came in with way too much confidence. I also had some big issues with my co-driver. We got lost every day. There were problems every day. I finished the Dakar very frustrated and I will leave it at that,” Casey said. “Now I feel better prepared. I have worked a lot with Sean Berriman and I have been coached by Ricky Brabec and Andy Short (bikes). The objective is to win. The “finish the Dakar” box is ticked off. Now we have to win, and I am coming off the Morocco Rally full of confidence. I know the competition will be tough, but this race is won or lost on your own. In any case, I have really fallen in love with the Dakar. I love the event. I love the discipline and the concept. The many challenges are incredible.”
January 2, 2020: Arrive in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
After a long 24-hour travel day, Casey and team arrived in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia for the beginning of the 2020 Dakar Rally to prep for the start of the race. All the teams have arrived and have finished their final prep. Our team has multiple support rigs, a fleet of RVs, three Can-Ams and a couple of transport vehicles. Shakedown is the last time the cars will be driven before race day, and the area where the testing will take place is about 27km outside of Jeddah, which sits at the edge of a set of dunes and crisscrossing dirt roads.
January 3: Scrutineering & Accreditation
It was scrutineering and accreditation day, so the team took their Dakar chassis spec’d 2020 Can-Am Maverick equipped with race-ready Trail Grappler SxS tires through all of the technical specs on the car to ensure it met ASO standards.
While the crew finalized the cars before scrutineering Casey headed over to King Abdullah Sports City for accreditation. At accreditation the team has to go through a bunch of steps to get approved for the race. From presenting passports, visas and driver licenses to getting photos for the TV broadcast. They have to weed through the maze of athletes to find and check off each mark.
Meanwhile the crew finished up the last checks on the car and arrived at scrutineering. All of the vehicles have to go through this process and if something isn’t up to par they won’t be able to race in the rally. From here the cars will be locked down at Parc Ferme where no one is allowed to touch the racecar before race day. Tomorrow will be podium and the last day before the action begins.
January 4: Pre-Race Podium
The day of podium is a little more mellow for the racers. While the crews pack up all of the assistance vehicles, Casey and Sean dialed in their RV. This will be their home for the next 2 weeks. So, they’re getting everything as comfortable as possible for the next few days.
Sean then headed to pick up the road book for Stage 1. Something different for this year’s Dakar rally is that on six of the stages the navigators will be given the road book the day of the Stage instead of the night before which enabled them to mark the book and make notes to prep for the next day’s race.
From there the party started. The podium celebration is a massive festival where the public is able to come and check out all of the drivers and their rigs. It starts at 2pm and goes late into the night. There are massive performances: this year there was a crazy Cirque Du Soleil-esque show complete with dancing bungee jumpers decorated with smoke grenades. Casey and Sean went across the stage around 8:45pm to give their last remarks and snag a couple of photos. It was the last night of hotel rest before the epic race.
January 5: Stage 1, Jeddah to Al Wajh
Stage 1 began with an early wake up to hit the road with a 195 km liaison to the start of the special. Drivers got in their cars around 7:30am and started making their way north out of Jeddah.
Casey and Sean got to the start of the special around 10:15am and stopped at the fuel truck to top off before they hit the dirt. The UTV class has multiple stops for fuel depending on how long the stage is.
This was the third longest stage of the Rally at 752 total kms. The special was 319 km and consisted of multiple styles of terrain.
“The opening stage is far from a stroll in the park. It features everything that makes up this Rally in a quick succession: fast, winding, dunes, stones. With all this variety, this mini-Dakar is not to be underestimated.” - Dakar
Terrain Breakdown for Stage 1: 35% Soil, 28% Sand, 25% Stones, 6% Tarmac and 5% Dunes
Casey took off the line at 10:58am, 5th car on road. He started off with a great pace and at the first waypoint at km 47 he was in 3rd on corrected time only 27 seconds off the lead. He would keep a steady pace for most of the Stage staying within 4 Minutes off the lead. At the halfway point at km 158, Casey was 2nd, 03:56 behind Aron Domzala. With 20 km left in the Stage Casey would close the gap on Domzala dropping it down to only a minute and 51 second lead going into the Stage 2.
Casey had this to say, “Day 1, it was brutal out there, the course was everything you’d think you’d see at Dakar. We got it all today. We had sand and crazy rocks and sand washes, river bottoms that were just chewed up. Overall, we just had a great time, Sean did a great job. If this is how rally is going to be, this is going to be enjoyable. I’m just glad Day 1 is over because we got eleven more days!”
After the finish, it was another long liaison to the first bivouac of the rally in Al Wajh. 238 KMs up the coast next to the Red Sea! With a short morning liaison to tomorrow’s stage the drivers get a little bit of extra time to sleep tonight. Stage 2 will also start the mixing of vehicles off the start line. Your start order will be dependent on your overall time on the stage the day before. So, you can now have the big T4 trucks starting in front of you and the fast T1 cars starting behind you depending on how they finished.
January 6: Stage 2, Al Wajh to Neom
Today racers had an unusual later start. Casey and Sean woke up around 7:00am in no rush with a Bivouac leave time of 9:30am. Casey opted for a protein shake while Sean headed over to the catered bivouac meal.
After breakfast it was time to get ready for the race. Today was a short 20km liaison to the start of the special. Casey finished stage 1 in 4h02m49s good enough for 2nd in class and 40th overall of all the cars. He was down 1m52s behind Domzala going into a Stage that would be very dependent on navigation.
“Mostly made up of tracks, this day’s challenge is technically accessible. But you start to get a feel for what makes Saudi navigation particularly difficult. It is time to learn to trust new landmarks, when multiple tracks lead to confusion. For bikes and quads this is also the first part of the “Super Marathon” stage.” - Dakar
Terrain Breakdown for Stage 2: 65% Soil, 30% Stones and 5% Sand.
The Super Marathon is only for bikes and quads and puts them to a test of endurance. Riders are not allowed any outside assistance at the end of the stage. They are given 10 minutes once they finish to work on their bikes. They aren’t even allowed to receive parts from their teammates. The Super marathon stage is definitely a test of who can go fast and still keep their bike in one piece.
Casey and Sean headed off the line at 10:19am, 40th Car on road. He had multiple big T4 trucks ahead of him. “I think it’s good, it’ll help clear some of the big rocks out of the way,” said Casey. Straight away the racers were all met with a wall of dust that would seem to linger for the entire stage. It was a tight battle off the start and at km 52. Casey was 7th on corrected time and only 01m43s behind the lead. He’d then gain some ground and move up to 4th until he got a flat that would hold him and Sean up for 4 minutes. He would make some ground up before getting a second flat and would then have to play it safe. He dropped back to 7th due to running the slower pace. Then nearly a kilometer from the finish a hidden waypoint would cause mayhem. There were trucks, bikes, cars, quads and Utvs going every which way. Casey was able to gain some time back and would move up to 5th on the stage, 14m33s behind the lead.
“Day 2, we are done. What I thought was a terrible day ended up not being that bad of a day. Looks like we’re 5th for the day. I had a good run from the beginning, looks like I was either 1st or 2nd on the road in SSV, then I got a flat that put me 4 minutes down at the three quarters mark. I was looking good and then got another flat. At that point I was 9 minutes down. Then from there, I was just cruising, we had no more spare tires so if anything went wrong flat wise I was going to lose a lot of time. We really just cruised into the finish line. Then right before the finish there was a hidden waypoint that everybody was missing. We were able to gain some ground back on some of the other teams. I only lost 11 minutes total on the overall winner today. So now I’m second place overall and about 9 minutes out of the lead. It’s a long race, the frustrations sometimes work in our advantage and we’ll keep on charging.” - Casey
Overall SSV Standings After Stage 2
- Francisco Lopez Contrado 08h 21m 15s
- Casey Currie +09m 37s
- Jose Hinojo Lopez +012m 48s
- Sergei Kariakin +18m 37s
- Austin Jones +20m 47s
January 7: Stage 3, Neom Loop
Stage 3 was the first loop stage for this year’s Dakar, giving the assistance teams a break from moving the bivouac setup. Racers started right at the bivouac with the top bike riders retrieving their bikes from Parc Ferme for the second half of the super marathon. This stage reached the highest elevation of the rally at 1400km roughly 5000 feet. Being that they started and finished at sea level, there was a lot of elevation change during the stage.
“The circuit from the future mega city of Neom is a real gem. Taking competitors to the border with Jordan, the rally offers a series of canyons and mountains to explore on a carpet of sand. During this special stage, the Dakar will reach its highest point at an altitude of 1400 meters.” - Dakar
Terrain Breakdown for Stage 3: 62% Sand, 23% Stones, 16% Soil and 9% Tarmac.
Casey and Sean started the day 53rd overall of all vehicles and was 5th SSV on course. Right off the bat there was a ski jump less than a kilometer from the start line. Trucks, bikes and cars took turns launching into the desert. Casey took the more conservative route, opting instead to think about the 10 days ahead rather the few seconds of photo and video glory.
This stage would start off like the last stage with the top guys staying close together on time. Casey was 5th only 52 seconds off the lead SSV at km 43. He would start to gain ground and move up to 2nd on corrected time at km 101. Overall leader Francisco Lopez Contardo would lose time, dropping back about 4 minutes allowing Casey to gain on the overall. As the Stage would go on Casey managed to push himself into the lead at KM 352 but another flat tire would take away his first Dakar Stage win. He finished 1m 37s off the lead and Contardo would actually lose more time and would push Casey into the SSV overall going into Stage 4.
Fellow American, Ricky Brabec would take the win for the day on the bikes and now leads the overall as well.
“Day 3, it was a killer day, we pushed hard! In the beginning it was rocky and up a crazy mountain and then we got in these epic sand dunes with big berms. It was the most fun terrain you could ever want to be in while in a Can-Am. We had a blast, then 50km from the finish I got a flat tire. Kind of threw my day away, I feel that we had it all day long. I’m just disappointed in myself. I can’t be that mad cause now we are leading the Dakar Rally. It’s pretty crazy that only in my second year I feel like we have a chance at winning this thing. We just need to keep pushing and do what we’re doing.” – Casey
Stage 3 SSV Results
- Gerard Farres 4h 42m 47s
- Sergei Karialkin +18s
- Casey Currie +1m 37s
- Aron Domzala +1m 55s
- Jose Hinojo Lopez +2m 06s
SSV Overall Results After Stage 3
- Casey Currie 13h 15m 16s
- Francisco Lopez Contardo +15s
- Jose Hinojo Lopez +01m 40s
- Sergei Kariakin +07 41s
- Austin Jones +12m 39s
January 8: Stage 4, Neom to Al Ula
After the quick two-night stay in Neom the bivouac packed up and got back on the road in the morning. It’s always a crazy site waking up in the morning and half of the camp is empty from the bike teams taking off early.
Casey and Sean had a 123km, two-hour liaison to get to the start of the special. They started 50th vehicle on road this stage and 3rd SSV. The special Stage was 453km long and actually passed by the Nabatean temples.
These temples were carved into large stones that sit out in the middle of the desert and look alien made. There are over 100 of these temples scattered around the Madâin Sâlih area in the northern reaches of Saudi Arabia.
“On the agenda this day you will find equal parts sandy stretches and gravel sections, mostly on tracks. However, do not confuse speed with precipitation, as the arduous navigation will require some clear choices. History buffs will be keen to get their cameras out as they pass close to Nabatean temples.” - Dakar
Terrain breakdown for Stage 4: 45% Soil, 23% Sand, 18% Tarmac and 14% Stones.
Off the start it was similar to the stage before with the top 10 all within 2 minutes of each other on corrected time. The stage would be a difficult one with a lot of sharp rocks. Around the midway mark Casey would get a flat tire and with not wanting to risk too much down time would play it more conservative for the rest of the stage. Flat tires would play a major role on today’s special. Francisco Lopez Contrado who started only 15 seconds behind Casey on the overall, at one point looked like he would have a big day and then ended up getting two flats and would have him finish in 6th, one spot ahead of Casey who finished 7th on the day. With a long way to go it’s all about staying in the lead pack and not having any massive issues.
“Today’s stage was difficult, not navigation, just rocks. There’s just a lot of sharp rocks out there and a lot of places to lose tires. We pushed hard in the beginning and everything was going really well, and I got a puncture in a nasty rock section. From there I just cruised, I think we lost a total of 12 minutes today, it’s a little devastating but we’re still 3rd overall which is what we’re going for. I’m still learning rally and I just want to win every day and that’s obviously not going to happen. Overall the car is in great condition and we’re getting closer to the sand dunes and that’s where I feel like I am going to be able to perform even better.” - Casey
Stage 4 SSV Results
- Mitch Guthrie 5h 01m 13s
- Aron Domzala +19s
- Austin Jones +01m 14s
- Sergei Kariakin +06m 28s
- Jose Hinojo Lopez +06m 43s
- Casey Currie +12m 57s
SSV Overall Results After Stage 4
- Jose Hinojo Lopez 18h 24m 52s
- Francisco Lopez Contardo +03m 01s
- Casey Currie +04m 34s
- Sergei Kariakin +05m 46s
- Austin Jones +07m 30s
January 9: Stage 5, Al Ula to Ha’il
It was a cold morning today as the crews loaded up for the next town. Casey had a windshield added for a little extra comfort on the 80km liaison. They would have assistance vehicles right at the start of the special where they’d remove the windshield and do any last-minute checks before starting the stage.
“In the sandy surroundings of the day, humongous rocks will serve as landmarks to avoid costly navigation mistakes! Less technical but just as impressive as dunes, gigantic sandy hills stand to attention in front of the drivers. The descents, occasionally scattered with desert grass, will require even more advanced driving skills.” - Dakar
Terrain breakdown for Stage 5: 41% Dunes, 23% Soil, 21% Sand and 15% Stones.
It was another dusty start to the stage as many T4’s were ahead of the SSVs. Casey and Sean were the 7th UTV off the line and were immediately met with a wall of dust. Casey would run a cautious pace on the first half while in the dust knowing that the roadbooks called for a lot of sand in the second half which Casey excels in.
Whilst Casey was out in the dunes, our chase crew was giving a hand to a local. As we were driving down the highway, Aaron Quesada who was sitting co-pilot noticed something bouncing down the road. It was a loose wheel! It came barreling past us and out into the desert on our right side. Then we noticed on the left a Toyota Land Cruiser with a wheel missing sitting on the shoulder. Joe Parsons quickly turned around and drove into the desert to grab the wayward wheel that had finally come to rest. We threw it in the back of the truck, met back up with the sidelined vehicle and got to work helping out the local. We grabbed some rocks to help stabilize the vehicle while we jacked it up. The wheel had all of the lug nuts back off and once the wheel came off the truck dragged on the brake rotor leaving multiple flat spots. Luckily all of the legs were still good. So, we there the wheel back on, snagged a couple lug nuts from the other tires, tightened them down and then packed up the tools. By the time we were finished a couple other locals who must’ve been friends had shown up. They thanked us with a couple packs of locally-grown dates and we returned the favor with a handful of Monster Energy drinks. We grabbed a quick photo and were back on our way to the next bivouac.
At the halfway point Casey was sitting 10th on corrected time had now moved up into 2nd SSV Overall after Francisco Lopez Contardo and Jose Hinojo Lopez both lost a bunch of time. Casey and Sean would make a strong push in the second half and cut the gap between themselves and Sergei Kariakin to now only be down by 1m 10s going into Stage 6. The top teams have really started to show their colors as the top 4 sit less than 5 minutes apart after 2,872km.
“Stage 5 was a good one, it was sand but not sand dunes. A lot vertical climbs and downhills but we didn’t do any actual dune-ing today. It was good though, the first 150 kilometers was like desert with some rocks. It was just super dusty. We tried to get through it the best could, but the dust was just ridiculous. We got to the refueling and from there I knew it was going to be sand. We just pushed and then got caught by the PH Sport team and we just followed them for 200 kilometers. He was running a fantastic pace and we stuck with them and had a great day. No problems and Sean’s doing a great job. This Can-Am is ripping!” -Casey Currie
While on the way into the bivouac we spotted a McDonalds and decided to surprise Casey and Sean with a post stage snack. Earlier in the Rally we spotted a couple bike guys doing the same thing on their liaison after the special. There’s something about a familiar food that makes it taste that much better when away from home.
Stage 5 SSV Results
- Cyril Despres 4h 40m 43s
- Aron Domzala +41s
- Conrad Rautenbach +04m 14s
- Saleh Alsaif +07m 14s
- Sergei Kariakin +10m 31s
- Casey Currie +12m 53s
SSV Overall Results After Stage 5
- Sergei Kariakin 23h 21m 52s
- Casey Currie +01m 10s
- Francisco Lopez Contardo +01m 47s
- Austin Jones +04m 53s
- Jose Hinojo Lopez +19m 24s
January 10: Stage 6, Ha’il to Riyadh
A brisk early morning and a long liaison started today’s stage. Competitors had to complete a 177km liaison before the 477km all sand special. Casey had been looking forward to today, when he could finally get into the dunes where he excels. The stage heads from Ha’il to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s capitol that holds over 5 million people.
“The change of scenery is dramatic. This time, the special stage is 100% sand, entirely off-road. After a relatively fast first section, obstacle experts will have the advantage in the dunes. Drivers having previously honed their skills in the Sahara Desert will certainly have the upper hand. Then it will be time to rest.” - Dakar
Terrain breakdown for Stage 6: 73% Sand, 19% Dunes and 8% Soil.
Today was the first stage that racers would meet a consistent number of dunes and at the beginning Casey was flourishing. Him and Francisco Lopez Contrado would run matching paces through the first 6 checkpoints. Meanwhile Sergei Kariakin and Austin Jones would run into problems and lose a handful of time to the two front runners. Around the 300km mark of the stage Casey would lose a belt though. Sean and Casey got to work and were back moving after about 7 minutes, minimizing the damage as best as possible. They would keep a consistent pace and then make one final push in the last 50 kilometers to stay within 10 minutes of the overall lead.
“Stage 6 is done, we’re still sitting 2nd overall and now 9 minutes out of the overall lead. We had a great day, pushed hard and Sean did a killer job and it was just sand all day. I lost one belt and I think it cost us about 7 minutes when we were probably 2 minutes down on Francisco Lopez. That’s where our 9 minutes came from. You live and learn, I’m going to make some adjustments to the clutch to make sure it’s good to go for the remaining 6 days. Lots of sand today and lots of fast, fast sections.” - Casey
“We now go into a much-needed rest day for the competitors who have already completed 29+ Hours of racing and travelled over 3700 kilometers or 2300 miles. They’ve completed 5 Baja 500 races and still have a week of racing to go. For now though, it’s time to reset and recharge and get themselves set for the second half.” - Dakar
Stage 6 SSV Results
- Gerard Farres 5h 27m 25s
- Francisco Lopez Contardo +01m 22s
- Reinaldo Varela +04m 59s
- Cyril Despres +08m 11s
- Conrad Rautenbach +10m 24s
- Casey Currie +11m 47s
SSV Overall Results After Stage 6
- Francisco Lopez Contardo 28h 52m 26s
- Casey Currie +09m 48s
- Sergei Kariakin +30m 24s
- Jose Hinojo Lopez +36m 31s
- Mitch Guthrie +47m 49s
January 11: Rest Day
Rest day marks the midway point on the rally. Teams will do a complete tear down of their vehicle minus the motor to basically have a brand-new car for the second half. While the crew hammers away at rebuilding the car, drivers are busy doing press and getting their suits and helmets prepped.
“We’re here at rest day, rest day being obviously being a day where we don’t have any racing going on. So, it’s a day for the mechanics to go over the car, they’re changing a lot of stuff. New gear boxes, steering… everything they’re looking over they’re putting new parts into. So, for the second half we have a fresh car to go. For Casey and me, we just go through our stuff, do a little bit of laundry and make sure our gear is ready to go. It’s time to start the race all over again and we’ll see how it goes.” - Sean Berriman
Being that it is rest day, let’s talk about it for a second. You get a lot of things on Dakar, a lot of long days, a lot of dirt, a lot of kilometers covered but one thing that you’ll never get enough of is sleep. So, when it becomes time to get some shut eye, there’s a various ways people go about it on Dakar. Some lucky competitors will get hotel rooms in towns near the bivouac for max comfort and a hot shower, but it comes at a cost of the time traveling to and from the bivouac. Most top racers have RV’s in the bivouac for good comfort and the most rest possible without. Some racers and most crews go the cheaper tent route, by the time they get to sleep it’s mostly late into the night and a place to lay their head is all they need. Then you have the few that love the feeling of floating in the air and will go with the hammock setup. Wherever they can find a place to string their hammock you’ll find them swaying back and forth. Then there are the opportunists, wherever and whenever you can sleep do it! Whichever way you go about it, sleep is the most precious thing on the Dakar Rally and will always seem like you didn’t get enough of it.
January 12: Stage 7, Riyadh to Wadi Al-Dawasir
Starting the second half it seemed like the race had started all over again. All the crews were back to their early morning leave times and the drivers just had their cars to walk out to before the stage. They headed out for their 128km liaison to the start line.
“The resumption will be the opposite of a rest day... the longest stage in the Dakar and also one of the most varied. Dunes are scattered along the entire route and the drivers will have to cross small dune fields of a few kilometers. Between these climbing portions, off-road alternates with sectors with numerous crossings where the navigators will have to be on their toes at all times. Fast... but not too fast!” - Dakar
Terrain Breakdown for Stage 7: 56% Sand, 28% Dunes and 16% Soil.
Casey began the day 9m 48s behind last year rally winner Francisco Contardo Lopez. He’d quickly open a minute gap on him by KM52. This would continue and at the halfway point Casey was sitting 2nd on the stage and had opened an eight-minute gap on Francisco when he would get a flat tire and lose 4 minutes of the gap he accrued. But Francisco would have troubles of his own and lose a ton of time on the overall. Casey would finish 2nd on the stage and take over the lead on the overall, now with a 30+ minute lead over second.
“Day 7 is in the books and it looks like we finished 2nd place today. We played a big team role, I had both of my teammates with me and it really worked out. We had a great day, I lost one tire. There were some nasty rocks out there. It is what it is. I’m just going to keep moving forward and keep pushing. We got a long way to go.” - Casey
A damper was put on the day after the tragic news of Paulo Gonçalves.
“Paulo Gonçalves, riding motorbike no. 8, has died from a fall sustained 276 km into today's special. The organizers received an alert at 10:08 and dispatched a medical helicopter that reached the biker at 10:16 and found him unconscious after going into cardiac arrest. Following resuscitation efforts in situ, the competitor was taken by helicopter to Layla Hospital, where he was sadly pronounced dead.
40-year-old Paulo Gonçalves was taking part in his 13th Dakar. He made his debut in 2006 and had finished four times in the top 10, including an impressive performance as runner-up to Marc Coma in 2015. Paulo Gonçalves, the 2013 cross-country rallies world champion, was sitting in 46th place overall after stage 6 of the 2020 Dakar.
The entire Dakar caravan would like to extend its sincere condolences to his friends and family." - Dakar
The bikes and quads stage 8 have been cancelled for the riders to mourn the loss of their friend.
Stage 7 SSV Results
- Blade Hildebrand 5h 26m 35s
- Casey Currie +11m 15s
- Aron Domzala +13m 16s
- Cyril Despres +14m 13s
- Austin Jones +14m 42s
SSV Overall Results After Stage 7
- Casey Currie 34h 40m 04s
- Francisco Lopez Contardo +32m 03s
- Sergei Kariakin +42m 57s
- Jose Hinojo Lopez +58m 49s
- Conrad Rautenbach +01h 00m 42s
January 13: Stage 8, Wadi Al-Dawasir Loop
The second loop stage of the Rally was nowhere close to easy. With the bikes and quads Stage 8 cancelled the cars would lead the way today. It would be a day of drag racing as the course would have multiple long stretches one for 40km, 24 miles of foot to the floor and hold her straight. Because of the cars going first the organization bumped their start time up to when the bikes would’ve started. The first car left the bivouac at 6:00am sharp and made the 132 km liaison to the start of the special. The special was 477 km making for a long loop.
“The day’s loop is an opportunity to head south, where the competitors will find mountain landscapes, canyons and surprising color contrasts: black stones on white sand for example... Pure speed freaks will get what they want with a 40 km straight line, foot to the floor, while the few dune fields of the day will demand considerable dexterity.” - Dakar
Terrain breakdown for Stage 8: 58% Sand, 23% Dunes and 19% Soil.
Casey and Sean would be the first SSV off the line and the rest of the field would be nipping at their heels. At the first checkpoint at KM46 he’d be running 6th on corrected time only 50 seconds off the lead SSV. He would hold this position until KM212 where Casey would break an axle. It would take them 8 minutes to replace the part and get back racing. This knocked him back to 13th on corrected time just over 13 minutes off of the lead SSV and losing 11 minutes to Francisco Lopez Contardo who runs 2nd in the overall.
At the 400km mark Casey’s teammate Gerard Farres would run into his own problems when he misjudged a dune and would crash damaging his car. He would have to wait for assistance before continuing. He would get going and was still able to finish the stage and would finish 2 hours down on the day.
So, if you have a stage where you were unable to finish but still want to keep racing, Dakar has an answer for that this year. Last year if you couldn’t complete a stage in the first half you can return at the halfway mark in a new category. This year they introduced Dakar Experience category which allows you to continue racing to gain experience in competing at Dakar without being able to place in the Overall Standings. If you don’t finish a stage and are able to fix your vehicle before the next stage you can return the following day in the Dakar Experience category. Other drivers in the category are Mitch Guthrie, Blade Hildebrand and Cyril Despres who relinquished his engine to Mitch Guthrie for him to be able to still compete in the Dakar Experience class.
Casey was right behind Farres when he took his spill and after a quick stop to make sure they were ok they were back moving. But they ran into the next issue of their belt temperatures running too high. So, they stopped and preemptively changed a belt not wanting to blow the belt and cause more work for themselves. It’d take 7 minutes and they we back underway to the finish. Casey would lose 16 minutes on the stage to Francisco but still holds on to the SSV overall by 15 minutes with 4 Stages to go.
“Alright Stage 8 is over, today was a long day. 150 kilometers in we broke an axle somehow, got it changed. I don’t think we lost more than 10 minutes. We pushed hard all day and then we lost a belt at the end and put us down another 3 minutes. Overall, we’re 16 minutes down for the day, it’s tough but we’re going to keep pushing. Still 1st overall with 4 more days to go.” - Casey
Stage 8 SSV Results
- Reinaldo Varela 4h 50m 48s
- Francisco Lopez Contardo +22s
- Austin Jones +07m 21s
- Sergei Kariakin +08m 17s
- Aron Domzala +13m 10s
- Casey Currie +16m 45s
SSV Overall Results After Stage 8
- Casey Currie 39h 47m 37s
- Francisco Lopez Contardo +15m 40s
- Sergei Kariakin +34m 29s
- Conrad Rautenbach +1h 06m 03s
- Jose Hinojo Lopez +01h 08m 25s
January 14: Stage 9, Wadi Al-Dawasir to Haradh
Today marked the longest total stage of the rally at 886 kilometers with over half of it being on pavement on liaisons. It took about 3 and half hours for the competitors just to get to the start of the special. This stage would be similar to the opening stage having a little bit of every terrain.
“With this long stage, the Dakar prepares to enter the “Empty Quarter.” The main factor will be driving precision, this time with mainly hard ground and a number of rough portions for those who are not careful enough. On reach Haradh, built around oil and agriculture, the rally enters a new phase.” - Dakar
Terrain breakdown for Stage 9: 35% Sand, 35% Soil, 24% Stones, 5% Dunes and 1% Tarmac.
Casey and Sean started todays stage 7th off the line and the first 50 kilometers would be filled with rocks. They would manage to get through there 3rd on corrected time and open up a 3-minute gap on 2nd overall Francisco Lopez Contardo. Casey would suffer a flat though in the next section before coming into the neutralization zone at KM165 reducing that gap. Francisco would break his front differential but would luckily have it happen right at the neutralization point and be able to fix it without losing too much time. Casey would be right behind Francisco going into the second half of the stage. Casey would catch up to Francisco’s back wheels and would manage the gap. They had already reeled him in and now had an 8-minute gap on the stage, so it was time to not push the car and reduce the risk of breaking.
“Alright day 9 in the books, today was gnarly in the beginning. Crazy big rocks and lots of sand washes. Sean and I just pushed hard and didn’t really make any mistakes. We got a lucky break, a T4 passed us and from there we had clean air and we’re able to make a good run. We ended up 3rd for the day and put 8 minutes on 2nd for the overall. We gotta just keep pushing hard, the car is really good and I’m happy.” - Casey
Stage 9 SSV Results
- Blade Hildebrand 4h 00m 42s
- Mitchell Guthrie +58s
- Casey Currie +03m 30s
- Sergei Kariakin +10m 27s
- Francisco Lopez Contardo +11m 27s
SSV Overall Results After Stage 9
- Casey Currie 43h 51m 49s
- Francisco Lopez Contardo +23m 37s
- Sergei Kariakin +41m 26s
- Conrad Rautenbach +1h 16m 28s
- Jose Hinojo Lopez +01h 17m 53s
January 15: Stage 10, Haradh to Shubaytah (Marathon Stage)
Today is the first half of the competitors Marathon stage. During the Marathon stage, teams will not be able to provide assistance to the drivers and vehicles. Once they leave the bivouac, they will be on their own until they return to the bivouac the following night. If they break anything, they will have to repair everything themselves with parts and tools they have put on their car or that a teammate carries. It’s all about endurance and being able to adapt to the problems that arise. This will be the second Marathon Stage for the bikes and quads as they had a Super Marathon Stage during Stages 2 and 3.
“The marathon stage demands the ultimate quality in rally racing: endurance. The special in the first part sends the drivers and crews out into the vast off-road expanses of the Empty Quarter. It’s not a place where you should linger, as the route for the last 30 kilometers goes right through the dunes. And night falls in a flash! On arrival, only assistance between competitors is authorized.” - Dakar
Terrain breakdown for Stage 10: 45% Dunes, 23% Tarmac, 20% Sand and 12% Soil.
Casey and Sean would start the day as lead SSV and would head out into some sketchy blind drops that would see multiple competitors run into issues. Casey would make his way through the first couple checkpoints with no problems while there would be a big shakeup with Francisco Lopez Contardo. He would run into problems and lose about an hour on Casey. That’s when the weather would come into play. Winds would pick up causing helicopters to be grounded and for the safety of the competitors the Stage was cut short. Casey would finish 7th on the shortened stage with Francisco losing an hour and dropping back to third on the overall. Casey now has a 46m 40s lead over Sergei Kariakin with two stages left.
“Day 10, today was the marathon stage and it was a good day. We were by ourselves all day and we just kept pushing. Overall, we were making good strides. Then they cut the race short due to some wind and some injured riders which I feel was smart. We finished the stage and now have a 45-minute lead. We just got to play it smart. We got two more days of racing and were just going to do what we do, drive and play it as smart as we can.” - Casey
Stage 10 SSV Results
- Mitchell Guthrie 4h 00m 42s
- Blade Hildebrand +25s
- Gerard Farres +01m 22s
- Austin Jones +02m 24s
- Aron Domzala +03m 29s
- Casey Currie +06 39s
SSV Overall Results After Stage 10
- Casey Currie 46h 22m 15s
- Sergei Kariakin +46m 40s
- Francisco Lopez Contardo +1h 14m 58s
- Conrad Rautenbach +1h 21m 28s
- Jose Hinojo Lopez +01h 22m 44s
January 16: Stage 11, Shubaytah to Haradh (“Empty Quarter” Stage)
Today was the second half of the marathon stage. If you had issues on the first-half, you now have another 744 km to go before you get back to the bivouac where the crew awaits. During the night Casey and Sean went over the car and made sure everything was dialed in and ready for the stage ahead of them.
“Keep your eyes peeled as the day begins with a spectacle that lasts for 80 kilometers: the finest dunes of the country. Over such a distance the risk of lingering too long on a mound of sand to take in the sights is real. The competitors will then follow in the footsteps of the first black gold prospectors who explored the region. The marathon stage comes to a close.” - Dakar
Terrain breakdown for Stage 11: 55% Sand, 35% Dunes and 10% Soil.
Casey started the special with a simple motto, be smart. The 379km of sand, dunes and soil would be no easy task with multiple racers losing heaps of time. Casey and Sean would play things safe and take a smooth and conservative pace through the stage. They would lose time to Francisco Contardo Lopez who was on a tear trying to make up for yesterday’s harsh stage, he would be able to gain back 17 minutes on the overall standings. Casey was able to keep pace with second place overall Sergei Kariakin and only lost a minute on the overall lead. Casey and Sean now have a 45-minute lead for the last stage tomorrow.
“Alright Day 11 is done. We made it back from marathon stage. It was a good day, we stuck with our teammate and had a good day. A lot of sand dunes! We didn’t push hard but enough to keep our lead where it was at. One more day of racing and let’s get this wrapped up!” - Casey
Stage 11 SSV Results
- Francisco Lopez Contardo 4h 59m 51s
- Aron Domzala +10m 53s
- Conrad Rautenbach +12m 36s
- Jose Hinojo Lopez +13m 14s
- Jesus Puras +13m 14s
- Casey Currie +17m 26s
SSV Overall Results After Stage 11
- Casey Currie 51h 39m 32s
- Sergei Kariakin +45m 33s
- Francisco Lopez Contardo +57m 32s
- Conrad Rautenbach +1h 16m 38s
- Jose Hinojo Lopez +01h 18m 32s
January 17: Stage 12, Finish Line
It’s official!! Casey Currie and Sean Berriman have won the Dakar Rally, the toughest off-road race in the world! They achieved this feat in the SSV category while fellow American Ricky Brabec also won in the bike category. No American has ever won the Dakar Rally in its 42-year history and Casey, Sean and Ricky have ended the drought becoming the first Americans to win!
Immediately following the checkered flag, Casey said, "Two Americans on top! I'm blown away, man! Sean and my team did a phenomenal job. The car ran great all the time. It's just an epic experience, and I'll never forget it, for sure. This is my most emotional win ever. The amount of pressure that was on me was incredible. I love this rally! We're coming back next year to defend our title. I'm very stoked for Ricky Brabec, he deserves it more than I do."
After the Race
We caught up with Casey back at home a few days after the win to tell us a little more about the Dakar experience.
Driving Line: Congratulations on your historic win, how does it feel?
Casey Currie: I’m so stoked and excited to be the first American to win overall in a category!
DL: How does the Dakar compare to other off-road races?
CC: The Dakar is truly the hardest off-road race in the world. You have to travel to the other side of the earth, which is a lot of work in itself—our trip took about 24 hours. Then it’s Saudi Arabia, a totally different culture, and an 11-hour time change for 12 days—and that’s before you get to the actual racing. It’s not just one day you have to have a good race, you have to have 12 good days of racing in a row in crazy terrain.
DL: We know you love racing Dakar, what else makes it different from other races?
CC: There are tech inspections everyday of some sort, so to keep teams from tampering with their cars throughout the race the motors are sealed, turbos are sealed, and no changes are allowed. VINs and serial numbers are checked and verified all the time.
DL: How do the daily tech inspections affect the race?
CC: Most of the time, it doesn’t affect it much, but this year we had to change wheels and tires about eighty-percent into the race. We had passed pre-tech inspection, which approved everything on the car. Basically, the last two rounds they implemented a rule that we had to run a 14-inch rim.
DL: If you passed inspection, why did you still have to change the wheels and tires?
CC: Dakar had released two different sets of rules, one online and one printed, and the online rules read differently than the printed. The printed rules stated we could only use a 14-inch wheel, and they decided to enforce the printed rule about the 10th stage. Whatever they say, goes, if you want to finish the race, and we were happy to comply. At least six racers were affected by the rule change. The 30x15 Nitto tires I was running on throughout the majority of the race is an amazing tire, and I absolutely love it. The performance is fantastic, and they were great every day I used them in the race.
Photos by Casey Currie Racing and MCH Photography