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The start of the 2015 Dakar Rally is just about a week away now, and already we have news of a retirement: local favorite Francisco “Chaleco” López. The Chilean rider has been one of the top contenders at The Dakar, but he has clarified his intentions to switch from two-wheels to four, after his name was found missing from the 2015 entry list. As such, Chaleco plans on returning to the Dakar rally-raid come 2016, though he will be with the Rally Mobile car team, which he will race with the rest of this season as well. The move by Chaleco is not without precedent, as many top riders have gone on to continue their rally-raid careers behind a steering wheel.

KTM’s goal with the 450 Rally was to build a lighter, slimmer, and better handling machine than the previous machine, which was basically a 600cc-class chassis with a 450cc motor wedged into it. Now building a new bike around a brand new motor, all from the ground-up, KTM believes it has the ultimate adventure-racer in its arsenal. More like a motocross bike in its design than the bulky 2013 model was, the 2014 KTM 450 Rally is a stunning piece of kit, and for as odd as it sounds, we have never lusted after a fairing stay / headlight housing more in our lives. Luckily KTM supplied us with 13 hi-res photos of the new KTM 450 Rally…totally naked. If you’re a gearhead, the following might not be safe for work.

Cyril Despres might be the man to beat at the upcoming Dakar Rally, but the boys at KTM aren’t going to let Despres’ defection to Yamaha Racing stop them from keeping the Austrian brand’s winning streak alive. Gearing up for the 2014 Dakar Rally, which starts January 5th in Argentina, KTM factory riders Marc Coma, Ruben Faria and Francisco Lopez talk in a video about the upcoming race and their new KTM 450 Rally race bike.

Debuting the purpose-built 450cc machine, Coma et al will have a potent weapon this year, especially in the more technical stages. However, with two marathon stages (stages where the riders must perform all their own maintenance and mechanical work), as well as five separation stages (stages where motorcycles and quads will tackle a different and more technical routes of the course than the cars and trucks), the 2014 Dakar Rally is looking especially hard compared to previous years.

With Coma looking to tie Despres’ current tally of five wins, we can expect strong competition from the Spaniard. Missing last year’s event due to injury, Coma will be keen to regain his momentum, and equal his Dakar rival. Of course, the KTM Factory Red Bull Team enters this year’s rally with heavy hearts, mourning the loss of American Kurt Caselli, who died this year while competing in the SCORE Baja 1000. KTM is dedicating their race in this year’s Dakar to their fallen teammate.

These are the first photos of the 2014 KTM 450 Rally factory race bike that Marc Coma, Kurt Caselli, and Ruben Faria will ride in the upcoming Dakar Rally in three-months time (factory rider Francisco Lopez will be on the 2013 machine). The 2014 race bike is a completely new machine from the ground up, and will make its racing debut at the OilLibya Rally of Morocco.

With the goal of winning its 13th Dakar in a row, KTM has some stiff competition for this upcoming Dakar, as former-rider Cyril Despres has defected to the Yamaha Racing team, and HRC has recently debuted its brand new 2014 Honda CRF450 Rally race bike as well.

It has been four stages since we checked in with the 2013 Dakar Rally, and a bit has happened since Cyril Despres’s eight-minute gaffe in the rally race’s second stage. Reclaiming the lead the very next day, Despres seemed back on his form, and ready to blow away the competition — Stage Four would say otherwise however.

Shaking up the leader board, it was Yamaha’s Olivier Pain who finished the fourth day of racing roughly three minutes ahead of his teammate David Casteu and KTM’s Cyril Despres, respectively. The fifth and sixth stages had the competitors leave Peru, and make their first crossing into Chile (the 2013 Dakar will leave Chile for Argentina tomorrow during Stage Seven and then re-enter Chile at Stage Twelve through to the finish).

The change of locale proved advantageous for Despres, who gained timed on the Yamahas in front of him, and finally overtook Casteu on today’s Stage Six. Frenchman Olivier Pain remained in the lead through today though, with a 2:22 lead over Despres, and nearly five minutes over Casteu, who is running in danger of being caught by KTM’s Chaleco Lopez and Ruben Faria.

There are two more days of racing in Chile, before the riders will have their one and only rest day, which serves as the halfway mark for the Dakar Rally. Commence onward for full standings and some photos of the top competitors.

In an event that’s probably more embarrassing than nefarious, Aprilia’s Francisco “Chaleco” Lopez was caught by the camera of a Dakar Rally spectator stealing gas from a parked motorcycle near the race course. Lopez didn’t get too far in the process as several local policeman were nearby and gave the Chilean rider a stern talking to…of course when you speak the language, we imagine it’s a lot easier to talk your way out of a ticket than end up in some South American jail. Check the video after the jump, and let us know if you think Lopez should have been handed a time penalty for his actions.

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.