Ten weeks since the Dakar 2015 ended and the rally fraternity prepares itself for the opening round of the FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship this weekend in Abu Dhabi.

Fired up and ready to get down to business, Team HRC Honda’s Joan Barreda is aiming for victory in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge as the preparation for Dakar 2016 already begins…

After such an intense Dakar, the World Championship now takes us back to the sand and dune-filled rallies where you feel most at home. Do you feel ready?

Joan Barreda: “Yeah, sure! After a bit of time off, we’re back racing with the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge. It’s quite a different rally from the Dakar with a lot of sand dunes and quite a bit of navigation. It’s important to be in top physical shape in order to keep a steady pace and remain focused on fighting for the win.”

Have you been able to get any rest after the Dakar? How have you been preparing the return to competition? 

“At the Dakar you have to give it everything. But once it’s over, it’s important to rest both physically and mentally so that you can really put the old season behind you. After some time out I’ve been playing about with motocross to have some fun riding bikes but also work on things like stamina and speed.”

joan-barreda HRC 16875© HRC

Last year it was teammate Paulo Goncalves who won the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge. What can we to expect this time? 

“Last year was a great all-round team effort that saw Paulo win the race. But these are really like sprint races and the difference between the riders is minimal. I think that there will be five or six riders in the running for the victory, including some of the locals who know the race really well.”

Will you be aiming to win the first race of the 2015 season?

“Physically I’m in good shape. I’ve had over one month of intense training in Andorra – both in the gym and outside skiing. I feel like I’m arriving to Abu Dhabi in top form. I want to win but there’s no pressure to do so.”

The first two rallies of the season, Abu Dhabi and Qatar, which you won last year are very different to Sardinia, Atacama and Morocco. Why is that?

“Qatar and Abu Dhabi are rallies with a lot of dunes. They are also very diverse. In Abu Dhabi we navigate with a lot of GPS and waypoint eclipse (WPE) with an open arrow. In Qatar, the terrain is different. There is a lot of track and paths that are not marked. It’s rockier and needs navigation using waypoint masqué (WPM) with a closed arrow that only opens at 800 metres from the point, which complicates everything. I think that it’s the most difficult rally of the world championship.”

joan-barreda-HRC 7412© HRC

Has your season been planned? 

“Although it hasn’t been confirmed yet, we think that from June we will have the Dakar 2016 bike, which we will have to run in. I probably won’t be doing all the races in the world championship. I’d also like to race in the Baja Aragón, which I missed last year while I was getting over the problem that I had in Sardinia. It’s a race on home soil that I’d like to take part in, as well as the Ruta 40 and the China Grand Rally. They are two very interesting events for this season. We’ll take it as it comes.”

Why is the team’s focus split in two parts – Paulo fighting for the world championship and you Dakar?

“Honda really trusts in the teamwork that we have been doing, especially over the last year. We are on the right path and the aim is to win the Dakar. The whole season is focused on the Dakar. This allows us to prepare well and put in the kilometres without having to battle at the extremely high pace of the world championship. It means I am able to compete in whatever other rallies I feel like to help develop and work on the bike. Paulo will be aiming at the world championship and I’ll be trying for the Dakar. It’s a great line of work and we will be fighting to achieve both aims.”

Although yet to be announced, what’s your thoughts regarding Dakar 2016?

The Dakar is trying to revamp itself, to change and to explore new territories. We hope it continues that way and keeps adding new countries because over the last few years we have been repeating quite a lot. I’d personally like it if we entered Peru, although there are many factors that will be involved in deciding the Dakar route. We’ll know about it in three weeks.”