Competing in his 13th Dakar Rally, 2013 Cross-Country Rallies World Champion Paulo Gonçalves was killed in a crash at the 276-kilometer mark of Stage 7. He was quickly airlifted to nearby Layla Hospital, but doctors were unable to revive him. Riding for Hero MotoSports Team Rally in the Saudi Arabian desert, the 40-year-old Gonçalves had previously ridden for the Monster Energy Honda Team, scoring a runner-up finish in the 2015 Dakar Rally.
Gonçalves had success in the Silk Way Rally and the Rallye du Maroc on the new Hero rally motorcycle, and went into the 2020 Dakar Rally optimistic: “Now I’ve moved to Hero Motorsports, and I’m excited for this new challenge. Sometimes you need to make changes, to find extra motivation maybe. I’m happy so far. I’ve only done two races but had a lot of very good stages; I won a stage in Morocco and made it into the top-three five times at the Silk Way. That’s really good for a start with a new team. Hero is like a family!”
“On arriving we heard the news about Paulo,” said American Ricky Brabec, riding for the Monster Energy Honda Team and leading in the standings after Stage 7. “We all know that motorcycling is a dangerous sport, but today is a really sad day for the people of Cross-Country Rallies. Our thoughts are with the family. The race standings don’t mean anything anymore. It’s secondary. Life goes way beyond sport.”
“It has been an extremely sad day for the rally family,” Red Bull KTM Rally Team Manager Jordi Viladoms said, “and of course we send our condolences to Paulo’s family and friends. He was very much loved in the paddock—not only a great rider but also an amazing person and a legend of our sport. Obviously, the news has shocked us deeply, but no one more so than Toby [Price], who was the first to reach Paulo after his crash.”
“First of all,” Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing Rally Team Manager Pela Renet said, “I would like to wish Paulo’s family and friends my deepest sympathy on what has been a terrible day for all of rally sport. It’s very difficult to come to terms with what has happened today and, for sure, it affects all of us in the bivouac. Out of respect for Paulo’s family, tomorrow’s stage has been canceled. I believe it is the right decision and gives the riders some time to come to terms with what has happened. We know the risks in our sport, but we always hope that something like this will never happen. However, we have to accept this now, and in honor of Paulo we have to continue.”
Gonçalves had been having a tough time in the 2020 Dakar Rally. “ The stage today was really, really difficult,” Gonçalves said, “The last 200 kilometer was off-piste with lots of undulation, and the navigation was also difficult. So, I tried to push as much as possible, but the other riders really pushed hard. For me, it was a really tough stage, but I’ve finished without issues, so I’m happy. We’re on the Dakar, and on the Dakar, it’s important to get to the finish. I had a big mechanical problem, and I was almost out of the race, but I never give up. “
Paulo Gonçalves was born on February 5, 1979, in the coastal town of Esposende in northwest Portugal.