Track days are winding down, the new machines for next year have already been revealed, and the cold of winter is upon us. For the motorcycle industry, this is the low-point of the season.
There is something to look forward to in the off-season, however, and it’s the Dakar Rally.
In just about one month’s time, the world’s top off-road racers will take part in what is called the most grueling motorcycle race on the planet.
The 2018 Dakar Rally is the 40th edition of the iconic rally raid, and once again it will take place far from its namesake, with competitors racing through Peru, Bolivia, and Argentina.
This year’s route will take racers to the Pacific Ocean, through the Huacachina sand dunes, and beyond, until they finish in Córdoba.
For the motorcyclists, 2018 will be an interesting year in the Dakar narrative. KTM will be looking for its 17th-straight Dakar Rally victory, but each year Honda gets closer and closer to disrupting that winning streak.
That’s not to say that Sam Sunderland (last year’s race-winner) and Toby Price (the 2016 race winner) won’t make it easy to subplant KTM from the top podium step, but Honda shows more promise and potential with each passing edition.
When you factor how close Honda was to KTM after last year’s disputed mistake on Stage Four, which saw all of HRC’s riders levied with one-hour penalties for an improper fuel stop, Honda will be looking to make-up for that setback – challenging KTM both on and off the course for supremacy.
Joan Barreda and the rest of the HRC squad have shown great progress in recent years, and they truly will be giving KTM a run for its money in the 40th edition of the Dakar. With Barreda winning the most stages in 2017, all that is missing from the Spaniard’s racing program is consistency.
As for Yamaha and Husqvarna, both squads are also catching up to the likes of KTM and Honda. Will they be race contenders in 2018? Probably not. But could they glean some stage victories from the front-runners? Almost certainly.
The best thing about the Dakar Rally though, besides the amazing photography, is that truly anything can happen during the 14-day competition. Nothing is a given, no one is a presumed winner, and never underestimate the conditions. It all makes for excellent racing.
Photos from the 2017 Dakar Rally: