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HIde Hanawa - HRC Mechanic
NEWS

Life as a Dakar Rally mechanic

Jan 092020

The Dakar Rally is a unique, lifechanging experience—a two-week rollercoaster of highs and lows. You live shoulder to shoulder with your teammates, other competitors, and media. You rise, eat, and sometimes even shower together. You sleep caked in dust in tiny tents with no air conditioning. Bitterly cold nights lead to swelteringly hot days, and travel from one stage to the next is long and arduous.

When you sign up for the Dakar Rally, like Monster Energy Honda Team chief mechanic Hide Hanawa, you take yourself out of your comfort zone to experience life, to have an amazing adventure, or maybe even just tell your friends that you were there and made it to the end of this incredible race.

The 55-year-old Japanese knows the routine well. This is his sixth Dakar Rally. “We love racing, but Dakar is special,” he says. “We come here for the sense of adventure. Otherwise, you cannot justify the unbelievably long days and almost no sleep. Dakar molds you, and builds characters and camaraderie.”

The alarm clock wakes Hanawa in the middle of the night. “We wake up one hour and a half before the start of the riders,” he says. “Every day is different. For example, on stage one, Jeddah to Al Wajh, we woke up at 2:30 a.m. as the first rider was leaving at 4:15.”

After washing their faces and brushing their teeth, the HRC mechanics carefully check the racebikes. Sometimes they also mount the all-important road book. “Once the riders leave, according to the length of the route, we either have breakfast or we jump in the car to go to the first assistance point,” Hanawa explains. “On average, it’s a five-to-six hour drive. I supervise six mechanics. Some of us head straight to the next bivouac to set up the boxes. Others go to the assistance points on the way.”

Once at the bivouac, the mechanics eat and then wait for the riders to arrive, which usually happens between 1 and 3 p.m. “Once the riders arrive, we have a technical briefing and then we start to work on the bikes,” Hanawa notes. “If there is not a specific problem, we disassemble only half of the bike, which usually takes two to three hours. If there has been a problem, it can be much longer.”

On the eve of a marathon stage, two of 12 stages scheduled this year, the mechanics go over the entire machine. “We don’t do shifts; we usually work together,” Hanawa says. “Last years, we had long days. On average, we were working until 8 or 9 p.m. Sometimes we sleep three hours. If we succeed to sleep five hours, we are lucky.”

Since Honda returned to the Dakar Rally in 2013, the CRF450 Rally has been simplified to make maintenance easier. “The first time we didn’t know, so we overbuilt the bike,” Hanawa admits. “Season after season, with experience, the machine has become much easier to maintain. This is a key point on the Dakar.”

 

Hanawa is based in the US, so, for him, the Dakar Rally is like racing the Baja 500 every day. “You do it for passion and the sense of adventure,” he says. “It’s a unique opportunity to see new countries, learn new cultures, and meet people from all over the world. It is so tough that, during the rally, sometimes you think why you did it, but one week after you already dream of returning.”

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