2013 Dakar Rally Preview

December 31, 2012
Byron Wilson
Byron Wilson
Associate Editor|Articles|Articles RSS

Byron's sure to be hunched over a laptop after the checkers are flown, caught in his own little version of heaven. Whether on dirt, street or a combination of both, MotoUSA's newest addition knows the only thing better than actually riding is telling the story of how things went down.

The 2013 Dakar Rally course.
The 2013 Dakar Rally starts in Lima, Peru and ends
in Santiago, Chile after a 5233-mile trek.

The Dakar Rally is one of the most mentally and physically grueling races in existence, with all aspects of the contest demanding riders’ complete and continued focus over the course of the 14-stage endeavor. The 2013 edition will be no different since across those 14 stages are 8423 total kilometers (5233 miles) of some of the harshest terrain around, 4146 km (2576 miles) of which will be timed. Equipped with a Road Book, GPS and a machine scrutinized down to the last detail, riders will set out on the largely solitary journey starting in Lima, Peru, on January 5, 2013. They will ride for 15 days and end in Santiago, Chile, on January 20, 2013. The 2013 adventure marks the fifth South American event in the Rally’s history .

Leaving Lima, riders will head to Pisco and then complete a loop in Stage 2 where they will encounter immense chains of sand dunes, paying homage to the Saharan Desert terrain in which the contest was born. They will then move south down the coast through Nazca, Arequipa and Arica before heading east at Calama, crossing over the Andes Mountains into Argentina. Moving inland will take riders over all varieties of terrain and through incredible variations in altitude before they’re turned back toward the ocean following the ninth stage stop in Cordoba. The remaining five stages take riders back west through La Rioja and Fiambala until they reach Copiapo at which point they turn south, following the coastline of Chile until they reach the finish in Santiago.

Even though the race has yet to start there’s already been one major shift that will affect the outcome. Three-time Dakar champion Marc Coma will be unable to compete due to lingering injuries sustained during the Rally of Morocco in November of 2012. Despite efforts at rehabilitation with physiotherapists and doctors, he continues to suffer from shoulder issues that affect his range of movement. Following the announcement it

Cyril Despres at the Rally of Morocco.
Cyril Despres is a favorite to win Dakar in 2013 now that one of his main rivals, Marc Coma, is out due to injury.

was revealed that AMA National Hare and Hound Champion Kurt Caselli had been selected to ride in Coma’s stead, giving the American rider his first crack at the toughest rally race in the world and marking a milestone in his professional career.

“It has always been a goal in my career to compete in the Dakar,” said Caselli. “There would be no way possible for me to achieve this without the ongoing support of KTM. To be able to race the greatest off road race in the world aboard the best bike in the world is truly a blessing. This is not only a milestone in my career but also in my life.”

Caselli’s KTM teammate, Cyril Despres, winner of the 2012 Dakar, will chase his fifth career Dakar victory in 2013. He comes having won the 2012 Rally of Morocco by over six minutes ahead of Husqvarna’s Joan Barreda in a race that serves as the final official contest where teams preparing for Dakar compete before the big show in January. With Coma out, the French rider is considered the favorite to win, but no amount of past glory can predict the outcome of the race ahead, especially since Dakar is an endurance race pitting man and machine versus the terrain. One unseen rock or hazard can quickly spell the end of the race for even the most seasoned rider.

“I am always cautious,” said Despres. “I always say that my biggest rival on the Dakar isn’t the other competitors but the desert itself. That is the thing on the Dakar that no one can master.”

Though Coma will be out of the action , Despres will still have plenty of competition from other teams. Factory Honda backed Team HRC will field three riders, Helder Rodrigues, Johnny Campbell and Javier Pizzolito, marking 2013 as the first time Big Red has put full factory support behind a Dakar team in over two decades. When the team was initially announced there were five riders, but Sam Sunderland and Felipe Zanol were injured during pre-Dakar testing in the Mojave Desert and are now unable to compete. All five raced in the Rally of Morocco and Rodrigues proved to be the

Hondas Team HRC testing in the Mojave Desert for Dakar 2013.
Team HRC lost Sam Sunderland and Felipe Zanol after they were injured during testing in the Mojave Desert.

strongest rider of the team in the event, earning a number of stage wins. Except for a mid-rally crash, Rodrigues would have been on pace to challenge Despres for the overall win. The Portuguese rider took third-place overall finishes in both the 2012 and 2011 Dakar, making him one of the most potent threats to Despres’ bid for a second consecutive title.

Campbell has a lifetime of race experience and is one of the few riders beside Caselli who will represent the United States in the event. He has been a dominant figure in Baja Racing for more than 20 years and has raced the Dakar on both two and four wheels. Pizzolito ran his first Dakar in 2010, which ended soon after the start due to mechanical issues, but he returned in 2011 and finished 19th overall. The Argentine rider took a DNF in 2012 and returns to prove his mettle before the home crowd in 2013. All three Team HRC riders will mount the newly developed CRF450 Rally bike, which Honda revealed this October at the Intermot show in Germany and first raced in the Rally of Morocco. 

Husqvarna Rally Team by Speedbrain has also put together a squad of fierce competitors for Dakar 2013, including Barreda, Paulo Goncalves, Alessandro Botturi and Matt Fish. Barreda and Goncalves both vied for top spots in the 2012 Rally of Morocco, with Barreda finishing second overall and Goncalves taking fifth. The two were also regularly competitive against the likes of Coma and Rodrigues during the 2012 Cross Country Rally World Championship. Fish notched a number of top-10 stage finishes during the Cross Country Championship, and Botturi earned honors as best rookie in the 2012 Dakar, finishing eighth overall.

Francisco Chaleco Lopez is with Aprilia Racing Team and is ready for Dakar Rally.
Francisco “Chaleco” Lopez of Chile took third-place overall in 2010 and returns to challenge for another Dakar podium in 2013.

Jordi Viladoms will also pilot a Husqvarna TE449RR prepared by Speedbrain, but will be supported by Chilean team Tamarugal XC. He placed fourth overall in Dakar 2012 and was a consistent podium finisher during the Cross Country Rallies Championship. He even secured an overall win at the 2012 Sardinia Rally Race, which he took by almost 10 minutes ahead of Botturi. 2013 will be the seventh time he’s competed in Dakar.

Other riders to watch include local hero Francisco “Chaleco” Lopez of Chile, who took third place overall in 2010 and who finished the 2012 Rally of Morocco in third as well aboard his KTM 450 Rally bike. Dutch rider Frans Verhoeven has secured Yamaha Factory support for both the 2013 and 2014 Dakar and has multiple stage victories as well as a career best eighth-place overall result, which he took in 2009. Factory KTM has also put support behind a “B” team made up of South African riders Darryl Curtic and Riaan Van Niekerk, as well as Polish rider Jakub “Kuba” Przygonski.

Motorcycle USA will provide daily coverage of the 14-stage Dakar Rally, so check back often for updates on all the action.

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