9000 km to the Checkered Flag

2015 Dakar Rally Preview

maddix park mx


We’re now just a few days away from the opening stage of the 2015 Dakar Rally, where riders will face more than 5700 miles of timed special and connection routes between the start line and checkered flag. Buenos Aires serves as the start/finish point for this year’s rally, as it did during the first three events held in South America, and the route this year promises to be as grueling as ever. Four total marathon days are scheduled and there will be nearly every type of terrain imaginable along the way, not to mention dramatic variances in altitude while riders navigate the Andes Mountains, the heat of the Atacama Desert, the innumerable navigation challenges and the sheer force of will necessary to push through to the end. It’s a total test of rider and machine and it’s a fantastic way to kick off a new year of racing. 

Last year’s contest proved to be a battle between Dakar veteran Marc Coma and Honda’s Joan Barreda, at least until the latter stages of the event. Barreda came out hungry for victory, winning the opening stage, taking third in the second and finishing fastest in the third. Coma, however, opted for strong, consistent showings in the early days, helping to propel him up the overall timesheet to second behind Barreda until Stage 5. There, Barreda ran into trouble and Coma assumed the lead by a healthy margin. Through the remaining stages Barreda notched another win in Stage 7, suffered a speeding penalty in Stage 9 and then lost all hope in the penultimate stage when a technical issue set him well behind Coma in the overall standings. The KTM rider chugged along with more than two hours between himself and his closest competitor, deciding to incur a 15-minute penalty of his own to swap engines late in the game, helping him to finish strong for his fourth career Dakar victory. Coma’s teammate, Jordi Viladoms took second followed by Yamaha’s Oliver Pain in third.

Coma and Viladoms are back on the Red Bull KTM Factory squad in 2015, keen on repeating last year’s one two performance. Sam Sunderland is also among the factory-backed KTM riders, the British rider making his Dakar debut with the marque, having competed in 2014 with Team HRC. Sunderland nabbed the Stage 2 win in 2014.

Ruben Faria is also on KTM’s team in 2015, the Portuguese rider bringing no shortage of experience to the Dakar Rally with a notable finish in 2013 when he ended second behind overall winner Cyril Despres.

Other KTM supported riders include former MX3 World Champion Matthias Walkner, Australian Toby Price, who makes his Dakar debut, Jakub Przygonski and Riaan van Niekerk.

One KTM duo of particular interest to us here at Motorcycle USA are Team SP FiFTYONE’s Simon and Llewellyn Pavey. Llewellyn is a Contributing Editor to MotoUSA and his father, Simon, a veteran of the Rally, marks his 10th appearance in 2015. If both are able to make it to the finish line, they will be the first father/son duo to complete the Dakar Rally.

KTM pilots are going to have potent competition from the likes of Team HRC and Yamaha Factory Racing. The Honda squad boasts riders Joan Barreda, Paulo Goncalves, Helder Rodrigues, Jeremias Israel and Laia Sanz. Barreda proved himself willing and able to run at the head of the Dakar pack in 2014 and barring any penalties, technical issues or navigation errors (all of which plagued him last year) he will be a contender for victory in 2015. Goncalves, too, has extensive rally experience with a 2013 Cross-Country Rallies World Championship title to his credit and a second-place finish overall in Cross-Countries in 2014. Rodrigues finished fifth overall in the 2014 Dakar and took third in the 2012 and 2011 editions. Israel is new to the team but has the chops to contend with the best in the Dakar, the Chilean rising to fourth overall by the 10th stage in 2014 before a big crash ended his campaign early. Israel underwent five operations to address injuries sustained in the incident. Sanz finished as the fastest female rider in 2014 with a 16th overall result.

Yamaha’s Oliver Pain, Michael Metge and Alessandro Botturi will be aboard an extensively revised WR450F Rally in 2015 as they battle for victory. The blue brand ditched the five fuel-cell configuration used on last year’s model for a single carbon fiber fuel cell incorporated into the subframe. Along with the rearward-slanted engine, the WR450F Rally’s mass has been centralized and overall weight dropped by a claimed 22 pounds. Revised suspension and geometry settings will also contribute to a more effective weapon in the backcountry of South America. All three riders have experience with the Dakar, Pain taking third overall in 2014. Metge finished 13th in the final tally last year. Botturi has been forced out of competition the past two years due to technical issues, but in his Dakar debut in 2012 the Italian finished eighth overall. 

There’s no telling how the chips will fall once the race is underway, as each Dakar brings its own unique set of obstacles for riders and teams to overcome. Will patience and consistency pay off, as it did for Coma last year, or will one of the hungry competitors eager to dethrone the Spaniard and KTM be able to put together a winning performance? We will soon see as the first stage of the 2015 edition is set for January 4. Stay tuned to Motorcycle USA for stage-by-stage coverage of the event.

Bookmark and Share