It doesn’t seem that long ago when we put the Dakar Rally 2014 to bed but here we are getting ready to do it all over again. This race has been the ultimate test for off-road warriors since 1978 and will undoubtedly continue to make legends out of mortals in 2015. This year’s Competitors List boasts a number of changes, both big and small, which will undoubtedly make the race very interesting as we have a number of athletes to keep our eyes on.
Marc Coma will be wearing #1 and leading the Red Bull KTM Factory Team. The Spanish rider kept a cool head winning with a ridiculous 1:57:27 lead and went on to take the FIM World Cross Country Championship title too. The team also includes #4 Jordi Villadoms who finished second in 2014 and #6 Sam Sunderland who picked up a second stage win for Honda but couldn’t get past the fourth. We’ll see what the British youngster can do with a new ride and such esteemed team mates.
Speaking of team mates, Sunderland’s former team, Honda’s Team HRC is moving ahead with a trio of #2 Joan Barreda Bort, #5 Hélder Rodrigues and #29 Laia Sanz. Bort’s strong performance with five stage victories in last year’s race looked like he was on his way to a sweet first-time Dakar victory, but alas no. He finished seventh overall and will undoubtedly be hot on Coma’s heels once again, more determined than ever. Laia Sanz is competing in her fifth consecutive race and seeks to improve on last year’s sixteenth place finish. A top-ten finish and maybe even a podium could be in the cards for the former X Games athlete. (On a personal note, you go, girl!) Bort’s right-hand man, Rodrigues, is gearing up for his ninth Dakar Rally with his eye on the podium. The question I have for “supporting” riders like him is if he would pass the team leader on the way to that coveted podium?
One answer to that question is promotion within the ranks like Yamaha Factory Racing Rally Team Yamalub’s #17 Michael Metge. In 2014 he played second fiddle to five-time moto champion, Cyril Despres who made the switch from the aforementioned Red Bull KTM Factory Team in hopes of securing a sixth championship. Surprisingly it was #3 Olivier Pain who earned his first podium finish while Despres clawed his way to fourth overall. A respectable finish for most people but not for a man seeking to follow in Stéphane Peterhansel’s footsteps but we’ll get around to that soon. This will be Metge’s third Dakar Rally like new team mate, #19 Alessandro Botturi. They have guts and ambition but Pain has the experience of eight Dakar Rallies on his side. This will be their advantage too, once they’re willing to learn from him. One experienced rider whose presence will be missed this year is Chile’s Francisco ‘Chaleco’ López. According to an autoevolution article, Lopez realised that he is no longer capable of producing a top-level performances on a motorcycle; but hasn’t given up on rally raid yet and intends to drive a buggy in the Mobil Rally. So we just might see him in the Dakar again someday.
Only two Americans will be competing on bikes this year: #119 Tony Gera (KTM) and #164 Antonio Narino (Husqvarna). Nineteen year-old Gera secured his spot by winning the SCORE Ironman championship and Dakar Challenge. His GoFundMe page is still active so feel free to click on over and support the young rider: http://www.gofundme.com/a9o308. Both of these men will be racing without the benefit of a support crew. That means they’ll be responsible for maintenance and repairs of their bikes for the entire race – wow! We’ll definitely keep you posted on their progress and check out https://twitter.com/AntonioNarino for more about his personal Dakar Rally experience.
#250 Chile’s Ignacio Casale is back to defend his historic title, as is last year’s runner-up #251 Rafal Sonik of Poland. #253 Mohammed Abu Issa hopes to improve on his 2014 fourth place finish which isn’t too shabby considering it was only his first Dakar Rally. Like Bikes, Quad racing on this terrain is very gruelling. According to our Ken Stouffer, who’s not only a Dakar Rally fan but an experienced quad racer, the toughest challenges are tires and fuel. Also, the riders’ hands take massive abuse and multiple glove changes per day are the norm. However I’d also add that many of the riders are privateers and race without the benefit of a support truck or crew. It takes a special kind of person to face those towering dunes and mountains alone. This is one of the reasons just completing the race is enough for some and others keep coming back year after year because there’s nothing like it in the whole world.
When it comes onto experience, Team Peugeot Total has it in spades. The three drivers: #302 Stéphane Peterhansel, #304 Carlos Sainz and #322 Cyril Despres, collectively have over forty Dakar Rallies and eighteen victories. Peterhansel and Sainz are old rivals but Despres is the newbie, competing in a car for the first time. Luckily for him veteran Gilles Picard will be in the co-driver seat. Jean-Paul Cottret will be partnered with Peterhansel once again and Carlos Sainz will have Lucas Cruz by his side. It’s funny that Depres joined the Yamaha team last year to follow Peterhansel’s footsteps and has now switched to four-wheels as “Mr. Dakar” did in 1999. Carlos Sainz came over from the rally world after a storied WRC career. Although Team Peugeot Total will be an exciting element to this year’s race, all eyes will be on MINI ALL4 Racing. They have ten cars in the field lead by last year’s winner #300 Nani Roma and co-driver, Michel Périn. The other nine cars are as follows: #301 Nasser Al-Attiyah and Matthieu Baumel #305 Orlando Terranova and Bernardo Rolando “Ronnie” Graue #306 Krzysztof Holowczyc and Xavier Panseri #310 Vladimir Vasilyev and Konstantin Zhiltsov #314 Erik van Loon and Wouter Rosegaar #319 Boris Garafulic and Filipe Palmeiro #329 Aidyn Rakhimbayev and Anton Nikolaev #334 Stephan Schott and Holm Schmidt #332 Yong Zhou and Andreas Schulz While some may argue the virtues of quality versus quantity, the Minis have performed admirably in the past and will undoubtedly do so once again. X-Raid MINI ALL4 Racing made headlines for team orders in the 2014 Dakar Rally, as management decided Nani Roma should win instead of Stéphane Peterhansel. Since they’re not team mates anymore, it will be on like Donkey Kong for these guys.
There are a number of favorite drivers among the Dakar Rally fan faithful. Two of these are #347 Tim and #354 Tom Coronel. They’ll be piloting two Suzuki single-seater buggies for the Maxxis Dakar Team Powered by Super B. That’s right. These identical twin brothers will be racing solo. This will be Tom’s second Dakar as he will also serve as a reporter for Dutch TV Channel RTL7. Tim is the vet with seven races under his belt and he seeks to redeem himself after an unfortunate abandonment at stage 11. Like everybody else, they’ve come to win but never fail to have a good time in the process. Another fan favorite who’s obsessed with Dakar victory is #308 Robby Gordon who’ll be accompanied by Johnny Campbell this time around. 2014 was a dismal year for the notorious orange Gordini but even as they (officially) called it quits at stage 12, there was a promise to return in 2015 and finally conquer the sands after nine tries. Don’t forget to check out the official Planet Robby Facebook page for updates.
Trucks are an important part of the Dakar Rally. The organisers and well-funded teams have support trucks that patch broken vehicles and sometimes broken racers. However there is also a category of truck racing and it offers some of the most exciting action you’ll ever see. There are many familiar names and faces in this category, starting with last year’s champion #500 Andrey Karginov who’ll have Andrey Mokeev and Igor Leonov riding shotgun. He’s come a long way since his first race as a mechanic and stunned everyone by winning after officials gave him back time lost because he stopped to help MINI ALL4 Racing’s Yong Zhou. The Mini rolled and blocked the path. Many racers squeezed past the beleaguered car, but Karginov and his guys put their truck to good use. Never underestimate the power of sportsmanship.
Karginov and rest of Russia’s mighty Kamaz-Master team is back to secure the Dakar Rally legacy established by their leader, Vladimir Chagin aka ‘The Tsar of Dakar’ (Now that’s a nickname!) However, #501 Gerard De Rooy’s legacy is in the blood as he’s following in his father, Jan’s footsteps. Or in this case, tire treads. 2014 was tough for Petronas Team De Rooy Iveco’s star. An old back injury and appendicitis were the downs in a year that also had ups like the birth of his son and an exciting Baja 500 demonstration. Ok the latter didn’t turn out to be an up, but he’ll probably go back again. There’s one thing you’ll learn about Gerard De Rooy – he may be down but he’s never out. If there’s anybody to rain on the Kamaz-Master parade, it’ll be him.
The Amaury Sport Organization (A.S.O.) has the unenviable task of planning every aspect of the Dakar Rally. In 2014 they ventured into Bolivia for the very first time. This year racers face a loop that starts Sunday, January 4th and ends Saturday January 17th in Buenos Aires, Argentina with marathon stages for all categories. A marathon stage is when racers assemble at the end of a race day away from the official bivouac. They must repair their vehicles with no assistance from their support teams but they can help each other. Sportsmanship plays a huge part in these marathon stages because rivals sometimes (but not always) help each other with parts and know-how. Support riders usually end up giving team leaders fresher tires, etc. but some will end up on their own. This has been successfully executed by Bike and Quad competitors but they’ll be joined by the Cars and Trucks for the first time since 2005. This is going to be good!
“In Uyuni, it will be the car teams which will spend a night apart, followed by the motorcyclists and quad bikers the next day. The truck category will have its own dedicated bivouac in the middle of the Atacama Desert.
To make organisation of the marathon stages possible, a new system has been set up at the heart of the extended stay in Iquique. So, on 11th January, three races will take place on three different routes and in two countries. This meant there was also a need to incorporate staggered rest days for the motorcyclists and quad bikers.” – Dakar Rally Official Website
There are many ways for you to keep up on this year’s race. We’ll be bringing daily updates but if you want your info in real time, then the following official Dakar Rally links will put all the stats you could possibly want in the palm of your hand:
Smartphone apps: http://www.dakar.com/dakar/2015/fr/application-mobile.html
Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/dakar
Editor’s Note dated January 5, 2015:
American rider, #119 Tony Gera, will not compete in this year’s race. Here is the statement published on his Facebook page:
“So sadly I will not make it to Dakar this year one of the most heart wrenching things I have ever said. It was a golden ticket but that can only take you so far when your only sponsors are family they tried like crazy buy with such a huge bill it never happened, there is nothing wrong with that 90% of the population couldn’t come up with $35,000 in under 5 months and continue to win two championships. Thank you all for who helped sadly there will not be a next year for this but there will be a few more championships coming home with me for 2015.”