The Dakar Rally’s factory rides are all spoken for, again. Weeks after Pablo Quintanilla and Husqvarna went their separate ways, the Chilean rider has a new spot with Honda, and Skyler Howes fills the vacant Husqvarna team ride.
It’s great news for Skyler Howes, who sold pretty much everything he owned to enter the 2021 Dakar Rally as a privateer. Howes finished fifth overall, riding a rental bike from Bas Dakar. He was the top privateer finisher, and one of very few privateers to finish top-5 in many years. He’s also one of the top American finishers in years; in the past decade, Ricky Brabec is the only US rider who’s seen better results at Dakar.
Howes put it all on the line for 2021 after a great result in 2020 for Klymciw; he had more to prove, he felt, and that’s why he spent the whole year selling stuff and training to get back to Dakar. Now, he’s on board Husqvarna’s factory squad, with a proper support network. Expect great things from him at the 2022 race.
As for Pablo Quintanilla; when he left Husqvarna, the question was whether he’d move elsewhere, or retire. He finished seventh overall in 2021, so he certainly isn’t over the hill. And yet, at age 34, it’s questionable whether a factory team would be interested in a long-term investment. Quintanilla has never won Dakar, but he has done well at the FIM’s Cross Country Rally championship (two-time series champ), as well as other desert events. And, with his Chilean heritage, he’s a fan favourite in South America.
With all that in mind, it makes sense for Honda to sign him, replacing Kevin Benavides (who just left for KTM).
Quintanilla is a rare example of a rider moving from KTM’s organization to Honda (remember, the KTM and Husqvarna desert bikes are basically the same). That, and all his years of experience, should help him mentor newer riders, if Honda is able to attract new talent to its factory team. Will Quintanilla be around long-term? He doesn’t have the same elder statesman image that Paulo Goncalves had in his later years with Big Red, but maybe that will come with time.