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2014 Rally Preview

Dakar 2014

maddix park mx  By Byron Wilson

The 2014 Dakar Rally promises to be one of the most challenging in recent memory. It could also be one of the most competitive as Yamaha and Honda both step up to challenge KTM’s dominance with new teams and riders. Follow all the 2014 Dakar action on MotoUSA and get up to speed for this year’s event in our Rally preview.

Of the 5427 miles slated for the motorcycle/quad classifications, 3248 miles will be timed. According to Dakar organizers, more than 40% of these miles will be separate from the route used by the car/truck categories, allowing for tighter, more technical terrain. In Stage 7, competitors will face their second marathon stage and enter the mountains of Bolivia for the first time in the Rally’s history. As always riders will face a wide array of landscapes, huge altitude shifts and unpredictable conditions on the way to the finish-line in Valparaiso, Chile.

The competitor list features on the top riders of the international rally stage, with Cyril Despres and Marc Coma headlining the field. Despres is a five-time Dakar champion; should he add another Rally win to his total in 2014 he would tie his countryman, Stephane Peterhansel, at the top of the all-time Dakar win list. It would also be Despres’ third consecutive Dakar victory, which would tie him with Peterhansel once again; making the two the only riders in the event’s history to notch three in a row.

Coma, however, was absent from the 2013 Dakar recovering from an injury sustained during the Rally of Morocco. He finished second to Despres in 2012 and took his third Dakar win ahead of the French rider in 2011. The KTM ace returned after his injury to win the first three rounds of the World Cross Country Rallies Championship in ’13, eventually finishing second overall. He will be a prime candidate for this year’s top-step.

“It is important to take care of your body because the race is very long and very hard,” said Coma. “I expect that this will be a very open Dakar. The other factories are coming up and it looks like it is going to be very interesting.”

Despres and Coma previously rode together under the KTM banner, but Despres moved to Yamaha following his 2013 Dakar victory. Yamaha hasn’t won a Dakar race since 1998 at the hands of Peterhansel, whereas KTM has 12-straight Rally wins to its credit entering the 2014 Dakar. In short, the stakes are quite high for both riders this year.

The wrench in the machine for both KTM and Yamaha’s title hopes might be the factory-backed Honda squad. Team HRC has a solid line-up, comprised of Joan Barreda, Helder Rodrigues, Paulo Goncalves, Javier Pizzolito and Sam Sunderland. Goncalves is the 2013 World Cross Country Rallies Champion and earned a number of top-five stage finishes at Dakar in ’13. Barreda notched four stage wins in ’13, though he finished 17th owing to a big loss of time thanks to a broken wheel early in the Rally and a number of hang-ups during the later stages, including a crash, navigation errors and a 17 minute penalty.

Rodrigues finished seventh and Pizzolito took eighth overall during last year’s rally, Honda’s first factory foray in the Dakar in over two decades. Since then the team has been developing the CRF 450 Rally machine further, with Goncalves riding it to victory in the Rally of Morocco in October and Sunderland topping the podium at the Merzouga Rally later the same month.

Seeing the new threat on the horizon, KTM revamped its multi-Dakar winning machine for ’14 and bolstered its team with formidable riders. Ruben Faria returns to the Factory KTM squad after finishing second overall in the ’13 Dakar. Francisco “Chaleco” Lopez took third in the previous Dakar and also returns aboard a KTM. Jordi Villadoms was recently added to the roster as well, following the untimely death of American Kurt Caselli during the 2013 Baja 1000. Villadoms’ best result in the Dakar came in 2012 when he finished fourth overall.

KTM is also supporting riders such as Jakub (Kuba) Przygonski, Riaan van Niekerk and Ben Grabham during the upcoming Dakar.

Yamaha’s supporting cast is also strong, with riders such as Oliver Pain and Frans Verhoeven returning to compete on the blue machine. Pain lead the rally overall for a number of stages mid-Dakar 2013 and Verhoeven earned a stage win late in the Rally. Pain finished in sixth position overall while Verhoeven claimed ninth. French rider Michael Metge will ride as support for Despres in the ’14 edition.

Other riders have the potential to vie for top-five finished as well, such as David Casteu who is now on a KTM and Alessandro Botturi, who remains with Speedbrain . Botturi faced a number of challenges in 2013, with a late engine issue eventually forcing him out of competition, but Italian rider finished 8th overall during his inaugural Dakar in 2012. 

The opening stage from Rosario, Argentina to San Luis, a 390-mile stage with a 111-mile timed section, starts January 5, 2014. Competitors head west until reaching San Rafael in Stage 3 and then move northward until January 11th, which is the designated rest day in Salta. More north-bound travel commences the following day into Bolivia. Riders make their way further west until reaching the ocean in Iquique, Chile, from which point they will descend south through four stages to the finish line.

Dakar 2014 Individual Stages:
Stage 1: 5th January - Rosario to San Luis – 629 km liaison, 180 km special = 809 km (Longest in km)
Stage 2: 6th January - San Luis to San Rafael – 365 km liaison, 359 km special = 724 km
Stage 3: 7th January - San Rafael to San Juan – 292 km liaison, 373 km special = 665 km (First marathon stage)
Stage 4: 8th January - San Juan to Chilecito – 210 km liaison, 353 km special = 563 km
Stage 5: 9th January - Chilecito to Tucuman – 384 km liaison, 527 km special = 527 km
Stage 6: 10th January - Tucuman to Salta – 64 km liaison, 400 km special = 464 km
Rest Day: 11th January - Salta
Stage 7: 12th January - Salta to Salta/Uyuni - 373 km liaison, 409 km special = 782 km (Second marathon stage)
Stage 8: 13th January - Salta/Uyuni to Calama - 230 liaison, 462 km special = 692 km
Stage 9: 14th January - Calama to Iquique – 29 km liaison, 422 km special = 451 km
Stage 10: 15th January - Iquique to Antofagasta – 58 km liaison, 631 km special = 689 km
Stage 11: 16th January - Antofagasta to El Salvador – 144 km liaison, 605 km special = 749 (Longest timed special) 
Stage 12: 17th January - El Salvador to La Serena 349 km liaison, 350 km special = 699 km
Stage 13: 18th January - La Serena to Valparaiso 378 km liaison, 157 km special = 535 km
Total Liaison: 3506 km
Total Timed Special: 5228 km
Total Distance: 8734 km 

Australian Riders competing in the 2014 Dakar Rally:
32 - Ben Grabham (AUS) KTM
75 - Troy O'Connor (AUS) KTM
121 - Mark Davidon (AUS) KTM
129 - Clayton Jacobsen (AUS) KTM
134 - Shane Diener (AUS) Yamaha
165 - Alan Roberts (AUS) KTM 

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