The Dakar Rally, a highlight of the annual motorsports calendar has been safe in the hands of KTM since 2001 when Italian rider Fabrizio Meoni won on the Austrian brand’s LC4 660R machine. Now, ahead of the 2013 event in South America it will be up to last year’s winner and KTM factory rider Cyril Despres of France to challenge for his fifth Dakar prize and KTM’s twelfth consecutive title riding the KTM 450 Rally bike.
Together Despres and his KTM teammate Marc Coma of Spain have dominated the rally since 2005, winning the title in alternate years. But just before Christmas came the disappointing news that Coma has had to withdraw from the 2013 edition because he has not fully recovered from a shoulder injury sustained in the Rally of Morocco. It was a blow to the KTM Factory Team but team manager Alex Doringer underlined that because the Dakar is one of the world’s toughest offroad competitions it was the correct decision. Even though Coma was working with physiotherapists and his doctors right up to the last minute, he still has some lack of movement in his shoulder and misses the high level of fitness needed for such a grueling event.
While Despres is in good form and is again the outstanding rider in the field, the challenge of winning the twelfth title for KTM will not be easy as rival teams go all out to break the KTM deadlock on the bike category.
In 2012, Despres and Coma were only minutes apart in actual riding times after 15 days and more than 8,000 km of the world’s most challenging terrain. While it will now be up to Despres to again challenge for the title, American Kurt Caselli has been named to ride Coma’s 450 Rally bike in 2013.
KTM had registered a reserve rider with the organizers in case one of the factory team was unable to compete and Caselli has welcomed the opportunity to step in. Winner of multiple AMA offroad titles and the current US Hare and Hounds Champion, Caselli says it was always a career goal to compete in the Dakar. “To be able to race the greatest offroad race in the world aboard the best bike in the world is truly a blessing,” he said. “This is not only a milestone in my career but also in my life.” Meanwhile team manager Doringer underlined that Caselli would be riding in his first Dakar for experience and adventure and there would be no pressure on him to achieve a top position.
Despres is quick to point out that it is the race itself that is his biggest rival. “I am always cautious,” he says. “I always say that my biggest rival on the Dakar isn’t the other competitors but the desert itself. That is the thing on the Dakar that no one can master!” The French rider, considered at the peak of his career goes into the 2013 edition after victories in 2012 in the Desafio Littoral and the Morocco Rally.
Also riding in KTM colors once again and on the KTM 450 Rally factory bike will be the two regular support riders or “water carriers”, Ruben Faria of Portugal and Juan Pedrero of Spain. This year KTM is also fielding a Factory “B” Team made up of South African duo Darryl Curtis and Riaan van Niekerk, who are joined by Poland’s rising star rally personality Jakub ‘Kuba’ Przygonski.
The rally was moved to South America when the 2008 edition was canceled after terrorist threats in North Africa emerged the night before competitors were to set out from Portugal. Now for the first time the South American Dakar will take a north-south perspective over the 14 stages, starting in Lima, Peru and traveling south to finish in Santiago, Chile, taking in four stages in Argentina on the way. Riders set out on January 5 and finish on January 19 with one rest day scheduled on January 13. They will first tackle the coastal desert of southern Peru and according to organizers will be under constant pressure for the eight stages up until the rest day. Stage nine will be the longest of 2013, some 852 km.
While KTM will be challenging for its twelfth title, the company continues to support the many amateur riders who enter the race, many who wish to satisfy a lifelong desire for this big adventure. KTM supports some 40 riders with its comprehensive Customer Service Package as they attempt to complete what is one of their biggest physical and mental challenges. Recently Despres offered tips for rally first timers (http://win.gs/UyECgK), where he advised them to know their machines and understand the physical and mental demands of this epic event.
The Dakar Rally in South America has proved to be a big success in the countries it visits. The 2013 edition is set to deliver the thrills and excitement to riders and fans that will continue to cement it as one of the highlights of the motorsports calendar. KTM goes into the race with the hope of claiming its twelfth title but regardless of the outcome, the Austrian brand will continue to use the Dakar Rally to showcase both its premium rally bike and the skill of the KTM factory riders.
Image courtesy KTM