The clock is counting down to the end of the year. Eyes across the globe focus on the impending New Year with renewed possibilities, but in a land far away the dwindling seconds are giving way to something entirely different. While the sun casts its first shadows of 2011, the world’s toughest off-road competitors will mentally and physically prepare themselves for the start of one of the most grueling events in the realm of off-road racing. To a select few the New Year is a simple reminder of the opportunity which awaits them at the annual Dakar Rally.
This year the clock is counting down to the 33rd edition of the Dakar competition. More than 180 riders representing 51 different nationalities are queued-up and ready to hit the deserts of South America on January 1st. Making its third appearance in South America, the 2011 Dakar Rally will feature two prominent changes which have been adopted. Perhaps the most significant is the firm enforcement of a 450cc limit in the Elite class. This new regulation lowers displacement and excludes the dominant KTM 690 rally platform, with the Austrian manufacturer having withdrawn official support from the 2010 Dakar Rally. The upside of the 450 cap is that more manufacturers should be competitve, and this year brands such as Aprilia, Yamaha, BMW, Honda, and Sherco will all vie for top positions. And, of course, KTM returns with official support, campaigning its all-new 450 Rally racebike.
The route through South America will be separated into 13 stages with rider’s averaging more than 500 miles each day.
Another change which may prove major has to do with navigation. As with all Dakar events one of the most crucial skills for any rider to have is navigation. In 2011, however, this skill will become a top asset as riders must now navigate to within 800 meters of waypoints instead of three kilometers.
The 2011 Dakar Rally route will explore the northern portions of Argentina and Chile through 13 different stages. Beginning in Buenos Aires, the rally will consist of various Road Sections which competitors must take to reach the start of the special tests. On average riders will cover approximately 500-560 miles per day. This year the specials will consist of varying lengths with the longest taking place on the ninth day at 631 km. Each special will be timed and conditions will differ from barren deserts to forest backdrops. In the end the rider who receives the lowest cumulative time throughout these sections will be declared the winner.
The two superstars of the 2011 Dakar Rally are Frenchman Cyril Despres and Spaniard Marc Coma. The duo holds a total of five Dakar trophies aboard KTM machinery, and the Austrian marque has been undefeated since 2001. Despres and Coma will lead separate teams with co-riders Ruben Faria of Portugal and Juan Pedrero Garcia of Spain. All four riders will race on the brand new KTM 450 Rally bike, which has been specifically designed to conform to the updated 450cc restriction. Despres has already established the new rally bike as a strong contender by winning the Rally of Morocco in October of 2010.
Another brand that has dominated Dakar in the past is Yamaha. With a record that includes nine wins as far back as 1979, the adapted Yamaha WR450F will be a formidable foe with Portugal’s Helder Rodrigues at the helm. Rodrigues was the runner-up in the ’10 Rally of Morocco and claimed fourth overall in the ‘10 Dakar contest. In fact, Rodrigues has one of the strongest records in 2010 after finishing on the podium in each of the four international events he’s contested. Also racing the WR450 will be American rider Jonah Street, who took seventh overall in last year’s Dakar competition.
Meanwhile Team BMW Motorrad by Speedbrain has experienced a major setback prior to setting foot in South America. Rider David Fretigne injured his back during the early stages of the Rally OiLibya in October, and as a result will be unable to compete in the Dakar Rally. BMW will instead invest its hopes in Brazil´s Ze Helio, who is a five-time winner of the Rally dos Sertoes in Brazil – the second-longest rally behind Dakar. Ze Helio will utilize the BMW G450RR in
Frenchman Cyril Despres (above) and Spaniard Marc Coma (below) will both be in the spotlight during the ’11 competition due to their past success in the Dakar Rally.
his effort to win the ’11 Dakar trophy, a machine that has displayed tremendous promise during testing.
Other riders in the competition to note are Rodrigo Andres Caballero Alcayaga and Yoshimasa Sugawara. At 20-years-old, Alcayaga will be the youngest competitor in the upcoming rally. Conversely, Japan’s Sugawara will be one of the oldest competitors at 69 and currently holds the record for the most competitive appearances in the Dakar Rally at 28 consecutive campaigns.
Some terrain, such as the white dunes of Fiambala and Chile’s Atacama Desert, has already been covered in past Dakar competitions. However, five new provinces in Argentina and reduced GPS functions will give way to new difficulties. Another change for 2011 will be the rising difficulty level, with the most trying sections taking place later in the rally. Organizers of the event felt the suspense of the contest would benefit from gradually increasing the difficulty of each special stage, and as a result endurance will play a key role in determining the victor.
Opening ceremonies for the 2011 Dakar Rally start January 1st with the first day not featuring any timed portions. A single rest day will take place in the middle of the competition on January 8th with racing action concluding on January 16th.