When the Honda CRF450 Rally debuted for rally raid competitors in 2012, there was a cry for a production model of this Dakar-ready dirt bike. It took a while, but Big Red finally answer…sort of.
The 250cc platform was an interesting choice for Honda to make for its race-replica dirt bike, especially with the underwhelming debut of the CRF250L model, and thus the want for a 450cc version continued.
Race officials for the Dakar Rally have just released their initial plans for the 2019 edition of the grueling off-road race, and next year Dakar competitors will compete in only one country: Peru.
The news is a bit of a shock, since in the past The Dakar has found hosts in multiple South American countries (Argentina, Bolivia, & Chile). But, South America’s hospitality has been on the wane, which leads us to our next bit of news…
There is a growing idea that the Dakar Rally could be headed back to Africa for the 2020 edition and onward. Boom goes the dynamite.
If you wanted better proof that the American motorcycle industry is struggling right now, take a look at the expected attendance figures for the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, which is expecting its 77th gathering to be a bit smaller than in past years.
Some of that is to be expected, of course, after 2015 rally’s record year of 739,000 visitors; but for 2017, numbers are expected to be on par with the disappointing performance seen in 2016, which had 463,000 people in attendance.
For comparison, an average year for Sturgis sees 500,000 to 600,000 motorcyclists thronging to the Black Hills of South Dakota.
When it comes to adventure-tourers that can actually go off-road, the Honda Africa Twin easily rises to the top of the list. Couple that to Honda’s pursuits in the Dakar Rally and other rally raid events, and its easy to see where the Honda Africa Twin Rally could be born.
A special model being built by Italy’s Honda importer that was unveiled at this year’s Motodays show, the Africa Twin Rally won’t be hitting other markets any time soon (read: never), though it shows a machine that many ADV riders have been clamoring for, since the first shots of the Honda CRF450 Rally hit the internet.
That’s it. The 2017 Dakar Rally is finally over, with Stage 12 concluding today in the capitol city of Buenos Aires, Argentina. With a short 64km timed special, the results were unlikely to change much, barring some sort of unexpected catastrophe.
Anything can happen in the Dakar Rally, and in what was billed as the toughest edition of this iconic race, we bet there were still some nervous hands during today’s session.
Two stages of the 2017 Dakar Rally had already been cancelled, and we had already seen top riders withdraw from this competition, namely KTM’s Toby Price, who dropped out while leading the Dakar, and Husqvarna’s Pablo Quintanilla, who withdrew while in second place.
As such, there was much delight when KTM’s Sam Sunderland not only finally finished his first full Dakar Rally, but did so by standing on the top step. Finally bucking his bad luck, Sunderland does so by also being the first British Dakar Rally winner, in any category.
The victory is also KTM’s 16th-straight Dakar Rally win, marking the occasion with an all-orange podium, as Matthias Walkner and Gerard Farres finished second and third behind Sunderland overall, respectively.
In fourth place is surely a frustrated Adrien van Beveren, the Yamaha rider finished just 48 seconds behind Farres, which is extra disappointing considering the one-minute penalty he received during Stage 11.
That is a tough break for the factory Yamaha team, though it shows that the Japanese manufacturer is a true contender now in the Dakar Rally.
The same can be said of Honda Racing, with the Monster Energy Honda Rally team showing tremendous potential as well, throughout the 2017 Dakar Rally.
If it had not been for a one-hour time penalty for a refueling mistake during Stage 4, Honda would have had two riders, Joan Barreda and Pablo Gonçalves, in winner’s contention. They finished fifth (+43 minutes) and sixth (+52 minutes) behind Sunderland, respectively.
We can expect Honda to be a strong contender in future editions of the Dakar Rally, and despite this year’s result, the racing through the rally raid showed that KTM’s dominance is no longer assured.
There are four manufacturers now capable of winning this iconic race, which bodes well for the future.
The penultimate stage of the 2017 Dakar Rally, Stage 11 was the last true opportunity for riders to make a run at the leaderboard, as Saturday’s stage involved only a 64km timed special.
With 286km of sand and dunes to navigate, it was once again the Honda riders that headed the pack. Leading from start to finish, Joan Barreda took his fourth stage victory (don’t let the Dakar video fool you with its lies), followed by his teammate Paulo Gonçalves, for another Honda one-two stage victory.
The result moved both Honda riders to well under their one-hour time penalty from early in the race, showing the strong pace and program that HRC has put together for the Dakar Rally.
Yamaha Racing too showed it promise, with Adrien van Beveren taking the third spot in the day’s honors. That result moves him, and Yamaha, closer to a podium in Buenos Aires (though not into third place yet, as the Dakar Rally video says).
Meanwhile at the top of the overall leaderboard, we saw the KTM riders doing a more conservative race, managing the half-hour gap to their would-be usurpers.
Sam Sunderland extended his lead by several minutes, finishing fourth for the day. With teammate Matthias Walkner finishing the day 10th, Sunderland extended his overall lead by several minutes.
Going into Buenos Aires, we don’t expect the overall order to change much. Though, we should warn, the Dakar is notorious for its sudden challenges.
Racing returns to the 2017 Dakar Rally, with Stage 10 taking the competitors from Chilecito to San Juan. The day had two timed special stages, with 449km of terrain to cover while under the stopwatch.
One of the last days to make time on the leaders, we saw some heroic rides from farther down the time sheet, while the top riders kept it conservative.
Of course, the big news of the day was the retirement of Pablo Quintanilla, who fainted during the stage, and gave up his #2 spot in the overall standings. This was a huge blow to Husqvarna’s Dakar hopes for 2017, as Pierre-Alexandre Renet is now the team’s top rider – 6th overall after today.
Fortunes were mixed for the Honda boys as well, as Joan Barreda took another stage win, and climbed to fifth overall. Barreda is now less than hour back from overall leader Sam Sunderland, which should be a topic of conversation after Honda’s one-hour time penalty for an illegal fueling.
The day would have been a one-two for Honda, but Michael Metge missed allegedly missed a waypoint, and was handed another one-hour time penalty for it.
Metge’s ride still was important for HRC though, as the French rider helped Barreda, after the Spaniard made a navigation error – like any good water-carrier does.
Stage 10 was billed as the most difficult stage of this year’s rally, and for Yamaha’s Adrien van Beveren it certainly was. Making mistakes on the course, Van Beveren finished 17th on the stage, which dropped him to 4th overall. He will need to make up over three minutes to get back into podium position.
For KTM, it was solid day of time management for Sam Sunderland, who finished in 12th, over 17 minutes behind Barreda. But, because his nearest rivals didn’t fare the day as well, Sunderland actually extended his overall lead by almost 10 minutes.
Sunderland now commands a 30-minute lead over teammate Matthias Walkner, and a 38-minute lead over fellow KTM rider Gerard Farres. For as much contention as there has been for the 2017 Dakar Rally leaderboard, it is looking very possible that we could see KTM sweep the podium when we get to Buenos Aires.
Tomorrow sees the Dakar Rally heading closer to the finish line, with 288km planned for the penultimate timed special. Riders will have to contend with their last set of sand dunes, which will come early in the stage, before hitting more “rally” styled roads.
This will likely be the last chance to see movement in the leaderboard, though never say never.
Stage 10 proved to be the end of Pablo Quintanilla’s Dakar Rally, as the Rockstar Energy Husqvarna factory had to withdraw from the race, after suffering from a dizzy spell during the grueling 751km day.
For those who haven’t been following our coverage of the 2017 Dakar Rally, Quintanilla was sitting second overall in the standings, and within striking distance of giving the Swedish brand its first Dakar victory.
Today’s stage, as well as tomorrow’s Stage 11, are the last real opportunities for movement in the overall standings, as the final round on Saturday is more of a 64km parade lap.
At just under 21 minutes behind race leader Sam Sunderland, a simple mistake by the KTM racer could easily have seen Quintanilla take the lead in the overall standings. Making the days certainly bittersweet for the factory Husqvarna squad.
The ninth stage of the 2017 Dakar Rally has been cancelled by the ASO (the second cancellation thus far in the rally raid), on the account of massive landslides in the region.
Coupled with thunderstorms in the region, there has been considerable damage to the area, and many support staff to the Dakar Rally have been cutoff from the bivouac, and will have to travel an extra 200km to region the traveling circus.
In order to provide assistance to affected locals, and to allow race teams to regroup, Wednesday will not be spent racing. Instead, teams will regroup in Chilecito, where they will start Stage 10, which will end in San Juan.
Stage 8 of the 2017 Dakar Rally continued to the marathon stage of the iconic race, where only racers can work on their machines, without the help of their mechanics.
Thus, Stage 8 tests the durability of one’s machinery, as well as one’s ability to ride conservatively -it is worth mentioning then that there are only 110 remaining motorcycle competitors remaining in The Dakar.
Don’t tell that to Honda’s Joan Barreda though, who once again blitzed the stage leaderboard. The Spaniard is surely unable to overcome his one-hour time penalty, but one has to wonder where Honda would be without it, as Bam Bam has impressed this edition of the Dakar Rally.
Stage 8 was originally planned to be 492km of two timed special stages, but flooding saw the course shortened by 72 km. With the day starting in Bolivia, the riders finished Stage 8 in Argentina, the final country of this Dakar Rally.
Despite Barreda’s result, KTM’s Sam Sunderland retains his overall lead, after finishing the day in third – just under four minutes back from Barreda. Matthias Walkner managed to squeeze his KTM between Barreda and Sunderland though, which moves him into fourth overall.
Wednesday’s Stage 9 was set to be a long day, with two timed specials totaling 406km. There have been some question marks though, as many of the team’s support crews have been stuck en route to the bivouac – roughly 200km away – because of landslides.
With the traveling circus quite spread out, there is some talk of safety concerns. As such, Stage 9 has been cancelled by the ASO.
This means that there are only really two more stages where the leaderboard can be affected, which is not a lot for the five riders who remain in reasonable contention. As such, expect to see some hard racing on Thursday and Friday.
After seeing Saturday’s stage cancelled, and with Sunday set on the schedule as a rest day, the 2017 Dakar Rally returned to racing-proper on Monday, with Stage 7.
Today’s special was originally conceived to be 322km long, but again the weather played a factor, and the timed section was cut down to just 160km. Sand dunes were the order of the day, which posed a challenge to some of the riders, both in navigation and time management.
For Honda, the day was very good, with American Ricky Brabec taking the day, followed closely his teammate Paulo Gonçalves. Sam Sunderland finished the day third, allowing him to maintain his overall lead in the standings. With three Hondas in the Top 5 though, the day truly goes to HRC.
Brabec’s win also continues the trend of a different rider winning each stage thus far of the 2017 Dakar Rally, an unusual circumstance in a race that usually sees a rider or two consistently rising above the rest of the field.
On that note, Xavier de Soultrait continues to impress on his Yamaha, fifth for the day, sixth overall, and still in the hunt for the overall win. Yamaha also can rely on Adrien van Beveren, who sits third overall, just behind Husqvarna’s Pablo Qunitanilla.
With three manufacturers in the Top 3, there will be a great deal of intrigue for the Dakar trophy, as we head into Argentina.
Monday night starts the marathon stage, meaning that only competitors can work on their machines in order to prep for Tuesday’s Stage 8. Without the help of their mechanics, we can expect some shake-up in Tuesday’s results from bike failures.