It doesn’t seem to matter where the Dakar Rally is located, or what restrictions race officials place on the motorcycle class, KTM continues its dominance of motorcycling’s most grueling and infamous race. After battling with Marc Coma and Aprilia’s Chilean secret weapon Francisco Lopez for stage wins and overall supremacy, Despres took his third Dakar victory, and continued a KTM tradition.
Perhaps more inspiring than KTM’s continued dominance in adventure racing, is newcomer Aprilia’s rather quick success. With the class rules making a switch to 450cc motor limits, Aprilia suddenly found itself with a horse in the race, tapping its RXV 4.5 for rally duty.
While Aprilia’s overall didn’t have a tremendous amount of success compared to their Austrian counter-parts (Aprilia finished 3rd, 14th, & 18th overall), Lopez’s home turf advantage seemingly made up the difference. Both Lopez and Norway’s Pal Ullevalseter, who finished in 2nd place on his KTM, were over an hour behind race winner Cyril Despres.
Meanwhile Coma finished 15th after being levied with a contraversial 6hr time penalty for swapping out a rear tire, a violation that Coma says he didn’t commit. Coma would finish the Dakar Rally 6 hours and 32 minutes behind Despres, and would have presumably taken 2nd place overall had the race officials not ruled against him.
For the Frenchman Despres, this is his third win of the Dakar Rally, and he had nothing but scorn for his rival. “It was a tough race, a beautiful Dakar.” commented KTM rider Despres afterwards, who shrugged off Coma’s protests at the unfairness of the time penalty. “Five people saw him break the rules and change the wheel, he must thing we are asses if we ignore that.”
When asked how hard it is to win the toughest off-road motorcycle race three times, Despres replied, “winning a Dakar is all about the team, keeping yourself fit, eating and sleeping well, plus trying not to pick up time penalties or make navigational errors. It isn’t really about fast riding, racing for stage wins. There’s much more to it. Now it is over I want to cry with exhaustion, and elation.”
With this being the second year the Dakar Rally has made its home outside of its traditional route: Paris-Dakar, many fans and racers are eyeing a return for the series to African soil. For the bulk of Dakar’s contestants this would be a huge boon, as European privateers have traditionally made up a large portion of the rally’s field of competitors. For many of these privateers, the cost of transporting team members and equipment across the pond proved to be too large of a financial burden. Dakar Rally organizers are reported to be looking into an Eastern African route for next year that would take the rally through countries like Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt. Sources at this time put the competition’s chances of returning East at 50/50 for now.
Photos: J. van Oers/KTM & Aprilia.com