Despres is the most successful Dakar rider of the last decade, winning in 2005, 2007, 2010, 2012 and 2013. His record in the world’s toughest endurance race is only beaten by fellow Frenchman Stéphane Peterhansel’s impressive six victories, all taken with Yamaha.
The Dakar specification YZ450F with its revolutionary rear slanted engine has already impressed in this year’s Dakar Rally. Yamaha’s class-leading off-road machine took French rider David Casteu and Dutch challenger Frans Verhoeven to a stage victory each as well as holding the overall lead for four days during the first week in the hands of French rider Olivier Pain.
The Dakar took root in Yamaha Motor France’s DNA at the start of the race’s history in 1979 thanks to the determination of one man, Jean-Claude Olivier. Known to all as ‘JCO’, Olivier was a Yamaha icon and loyal employee for 45 years until his retirement in 2010. He remained very active as an ambassador with Yamaha until passing away tragically in a road accident earlier this year. JCO competed in the Dakar Rally for Yamaha between 1979 and 1989, finishing second in 1985. A former President of Yamaha Motor France, he was responsible for guiding Stéphane Peterhansel to no less than six Dakar victories. He understood that this unique event allowed not only for machines to be tested to their limits, but also for the best of human nature to shine through.
The list of Yamaha riders who have left their mark on the Dakar is long: Cyril Neveu, Franco Picco, Serge Bacou, Jean-Claude Olivier, Thierry Magnaldi, David Frétigné, David Casteu, Helder Rodrigues… and of course Stéphane Peterhansel, the outright record holder, with six victories.
The Dakar has also been an extraordinary rolling laboratory for Yamaha’s motorcycle technology. First with the single-cylinder bikes, followed by the twins up until 1998, when the development programme of the 450cc single was launched. David Frétigné took on development of the WRF450F, including riding a 2-wheel drive version in 2004. In total, thanks to David Frétigné and Helder Rodrigues, the WR-F achieved three Dakar podiums.
“I am very motivated by the idea of joining Yamaha’s ‘men in blue’. I remember watching them on TV as a boy and dreaming… Within the brand I have discovered a strong feeling of family, with an excellent flow of communication and a technical staff that is motivated and open to feedback. I am certain we will form a strong, united team, focused on one objective: achieving victory. I am also delighted to have Michael Metge as support rider. He is an ambitious newcomer who entered his first Dakar successfully this year and is extremely motivated.”
Eric de Seynes, CEO, Yamaha Motor France
“We had the chance of meeting Cyril Despres after the 2013 Dakar. Straightaway we understood that not only has he the experience, technical know-how and riding ability to make the Yamaha shine, but also that we share the same values and ambitions. He gave us the desire to work with him because his straightforward manner and professional approach won us over. He is a new source of motivation for all our technicians and for the brand. Both his track record and his personality make him an appreciated public figure who brings an international impact that will benefit Yamaha’s entire global market.”
Cyril Despres Biography
Cyril Despres was born on 24 January 1974 in Fontainebleau, near Paris and grew up 15 kilometres away in Nemours. Although none of his family was interested in motorsport, family friends had a son who was a trials champion, Pascal Couturier, and Cyril quickly caught the bug. At 13 he bought an 80cc from a dealers in Paris, and with the twice world champion urging him on, Cyril competed for a dozen or so years. Encouraged by friends he entered a national level enduro and won first time out.
In 2000 Cyril and his trials riding partner Michel Gau decided to enter the Dakar and financed their participation by selling bottles of wine with a map of the Dakar route on it. Cyril raced his first Dakar and finished 16th overall and 2nd in his class. “About halfway into the race I started to get the measure of it and decided to try and move up the rankings.” Riding talent and race-sense did rest and shortly after he took third on the Rallye de Tunisie.
The same year Cyril also meet the person who was to become his ‘spiritual father’, Henri Magne, one of the great names of the Dakar, who had navigated for Pierre Lartigue and Jean-Louis Schlesser. It was also the year for his first outing as a professional rider he finished the 2001 Dakar 12th overall and took his first stage victory. In enduro he finished what was widely regarded as the hardest race in the world, the Gilles Lalay Classic in 2nd place.
In 2003 he won three Dakar specials and made it on to the second step on the podium and finished the year as World Rally-Raid Champion. The best was yet to come. In January 2005 he won the Dakar and dedicated his victory to the memory of his teammate Richard Sainct and Fabrizio Meoni.
The following year didn’t go quite so well and he was beaten into second place on the Dakar by the Spaniard Marc Coma, but came back the following year to take his second Dakar, despite a first week complicated by a broken gearbox. In 2009 he won his second World Rally Raid Championship, the year that the Dakar imposed intake restrictors on bikes over 450cc.
In 2010 Cyril dominated from the third to the final day and won his third Dakar. He repeated the exploit in 2012 and 2013 to bring his Dakar tally up to five.
On May 30 2013 Cyril announces the start of a new adventure – he joins the Yamaha Racing team for 2 years aboard a YZ450F Rally. On the programme: the Sardegna Rally Race, the Rally Dos Sertoes (Brazil), the Desafio Inca (Peru) and of course the 2014 Dakar Argentina-Bolivia-Chile.