NEIL HAWKER(gbr) 1.8m / 102kg
Mobil-i, Wim Motors Academy, CI Sport, Troy Lee Designs UK, Jenkinson Potts Construction, Michelin, Endurotyres.com, Samco, Bike World TV, Monsters of Dirt, Kalehurst Garden Machinery, LiquiTech, MotoClean, JD Racing
“I'm much more confident”
Neil Hawker has a much better idea what to expect as he returns for his second tilt at the Dakar in 2021. The British rider was just getting into his stride on his debut last year when he crashed on Stage 5, and was forced to abandon the rally with a broken arm. Having been given (in his own words) a "kick up the ass" by a friend back home, Gary Potts, Neil has decided to return a year earlier than planned to try to get the measure of the world's toughest rally. The 37-year-old certainly isn't doing things the easy way, entering the punishing Original by Motul class for the second time. Then again, he has been riding for most of his life, and his day job sees him work as an instructor at the BMW Off Road Skills school in Wales. Neil has been passionate about bikes since he was a boy, and spent many years competing with the British Armed Forces, notably in International Six Days Enduro (ISDE) and trials events. After returning to civilian life, he teamed up with Simon Pavey at Off Road Skills, and the Australian's tales of his Dakar adventures inspired Neil to give it a go himself. For this second edition in Saudi Arabia, he has traded his Husqvarna for a KTM 450 Rally Replica, which he hopes will get him safely through to the finish line in Jeddah. Though he doesn't claim to be punching in the same weight category as fellow British bikers Sam Sunderland, Jamie McCanney and his old pal David Knight, Neil is quietly ambitious about achieving a solid result in the Originals. He is also looking forward to enjoying a bit of the true Dakar spirit in the assistance-free class, where competition and cooperation go hand-in-hand.
“My arm is pretty good. Because of Covid I didn't quite get the rehab or physio I needed or wanted, but it's actually fine now. I've been pretty lucky really, where I live is quite rural. I've not been in lockdown in a city or anything. Last year I rode on the only bike I could get in the UK at short notice. There's a bit of history with the KTM this year. At Offroad I work with Simon Pavey, who's done 10 Dakars. He started the business with John Deacon, a legend in British motorsport. John was a factory rider at Dakar and died doing a rally. He had a shop in Cornwall, JD Racing, so I went and got the bike there.
I think I was just super nervous at Dakar 2020. Trying to figure out the roadbook and the bike. I hadn't actually ridden the bike that much before, it was a bit of a learning process. I really enjoyed Neom. The stage was beautiful, the scenery, and it was actually a little more technical on day 4. And then, bloody hell, I crashed in a straight line! In years and years of racing, I've never failed to finish because of me. So that was quite a thing. I felt I could keep going, so I mended my bike and plodded on. The hardest 350 kilometres of riding I've ever done. I got back to the bivouac and my body just shut down, I broke some ribs and my arm. I rang my girlfriend and said, 'get me on the next flight'. And on the way to the airport in Riyadh the taxi crashed! I was not a happy man.
I've been training a bit differently, spending more time on the actual rally bike. I've done things my own way, with help from my girlfriend and close friends. It kind of feels like Dakar 2021 is all mine, instead of having to jump through hoops for companies or sponsors. I know everyone who's helped me personally. I'm in a very positive position.
The top 5 or 6 guys in the Original by Motul class are super competitive, top riders. They all want to do well, like I do. But you still help each other and want to chat to each other. That's my goal again this year, to make friends. It's so much easier when you can speak to people. Original by Motul is a wicked little unit. It's where my romance for Dakar started, watching them do that stuff. Battling the terrain, keeping the bike and body going.”
- Mark : HUSQVARNA
- Model : 450RALLY
- Performance tuner : Neil Hawker
- Assistance : Original by Motul
- Class : G2.2 Marathon
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