In an enthralling final stage with very little between the riders, Paulo Gonçalves was able to show the kind of class that helped him in the world championship, this time winning the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge.
Congratulations Paulo! You had a great rally, winning the final stage and the overall race. How was the final stage?
Thanks a lot. I’m really pleased. Me and the whole team. The entire Team HRC has done a great job and today we did what had to be done which was to battle for the triumph and that is exactly what we did.
You were up with the leaders throughout the whole rally, but in the penultimate stage stayed stuck in the dunes. The last stage was presented complicated.
Yes. I would have liked to have got a bit closer to Marc Coma, but I got caught up in a dune and lost a bit of time, which would have made things a little more calm before the final stage.
But you always believed in yourself and in the team. Is that the extra edge that being world champion gives?
After winning the world championship with Honda I knew that it was important to begin the title defense with a good test. But the other riders are all very high level too. We had the conditions to really attack at the end and we won the race as a result. We’re really pleased to have given Team HRC another victory, and we’ve proved how strong the CRF450 RALLY is. Out here the conditions are so hard and extreme in the desert of Abu Dhabi, with high temperatures and 90% sand and dunes, that we were able to show that the bike is capable of supporting all types of adversities. In a couple of weeks the second race starts, and we’ve got to keep on working. The Dakar 2015 is a long way off, and we have to go on preparing and concentrating on the job at hand. We’ve got a strong team, very close, and that’s been one of the most important factors in gaining the victory. Those of us on the bikes, as well as those around us.
The team has changed the structure for this season. There’s only three of you, but as you say, you are more united than ever!
It’s true. The team is closer than ever. Outside we strive for team victory. That’s our priority. Inside, in the race, everyone is trying to win: me, Joan, Hélder… we all set out to win, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t work together to help the team to evolve and keep working towards the perfect conditions for winning the Dakar.
This is the spirit. The championship has just began and we’ve been working since last October and it’s all going to plan. Now we’ve got what we need: the team, the bike, the collaborators and mechanics.
The great team-work really showed, especially in the last stage.
Joan, me and Hélder work really well together. Joan pushed me ahead to gain time every day. Today Barreda played an important role containing Marc. Everything went perfectly. Last year too, he helped me a lot to win the title. And this year he has really given me a big help to begin the season.
After Joan won the Super Especial, Sunderland and Coma took it in turns to lead the race, but in the end you broke their brand’s domination of 12 consecutive wins.
Marc Coma and Sam Sunderland were really competitive, and really fast throughout the whole race, but we were too. We won the prologue, the third, fourth and the fifth stage. What’s really important is that we were always in with a shout. In five days I went from fifth, to finish first. I think it’s a great result. It was a great struggle that makes it all the more special for Team HRC and for Paulo Gonçalves.
How fast did the rally go?
I don’t know what the fastest was that we went, but in this race with the way points open, we had a pace that was pretty high and dangerous even, with all the dunes. The roadbook here, gave little information, so you had to navigate visually and intuitively. It made us take some risks, but everything went well and we didn’t suffer any damage or harm. The pace between the front-runners really was impressive.
Next race: Qatar. The second test of the championship is quite different. No more dunes. Will it be difficult?
Sure. It’ll be a very different race from the one that we have just ran. There will be sand and dunes there too, but about 50-60% of the terrain is hard track, more like the Dakar or other rallies. It will be another race and we will have to keep working, concentrating, stay alert and fight for the victory if we get a chance. The work we are doing is really good. We know that as long as nothing goes wrong, it’ll go well for us. It’s not about luck, it’s about hard work. We’ve got to go on fighting for each race. The rivals are really strong, so when you do win, it makes the whole thing that much worthwhile.