Expectations are high as Yamaha Factory Racing’s latest evolution of the YZ450F Rally will be in the hands of Dakar legend Cyril Despres on the start line in Rosario, Argentina. Despres leads the manufacturer’s efforts for Dakar glory supported by fellow Frenchmen Michael Metge and Olivier Pain and Dutchman Frans Verhoeven.
The Yamaha riders stole the opening show in the 2013 Dakar Rally with their 450F machines, Pain leading overall from the fourth to the end of the seventh stage before handing over control to fellow Yamaha rider David Casteu going into the rest day. Casteu claimed a stage win on the fifth stage and Dutchman Verhoeven took the 12th stage.
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. Since his signing earlier this year, Despres has been a key factor in the development and preparation of the 2014 Yamaha YZ450F rally machine, combining his years of Dakar experience with Yamaha’s technical expertise.
Verhoeven enters his second year with Yamaha Motor Europe and Yamaha Motor Netherlands. His first Dakar experience was 2005, the Dutchman gradually increasing his experience to finish a career best of eighth in 2009. Verhoeven can also claim three stage victories along with two top three finishes in 2012. 2013 saw him take another stage victory as he battled for glory in South America, unfortunately suffering some bad luck along the way but recovering to finish ninth overall.
Metge steps up to as the support rider for Despres, the young Frenchman continuing to build his Dakar experience, now riding with the best and hoping to improve on his 18th place finish of last year.
Yamaha Racing France Yamalube rider Pain held the lead for five days in the 2013 Rally, gaining valuable experience to put his YZ450F to the test in South America again this year. Pain wrapped up 2013 just outside the top five in sixth overall.
In addition to running through Argentina and Chile, this year’s Rally will provide a new challenge for the riders as they leave Peru behind and instead tackle unforgiving territory in Bolivia. Added to this will be two marathon stages representing 2,702km (1,228km between San Rafael and Chilecito plus 1,474km between Salta and Calama), including a special stage of 1,590km (726 km and 864 km).
Yamaha Racing Argentina’s Marcos Patronelli is the only Patronelli brother entered in the 2014 Dakar in the Quad category. Patronelli will be looking to take his third Dakar title with the Yamaha Raptor. He leads the top three all Yamaha machines with the 250 plate, behind him on 251 is Chile’s Ignacio Consale and on 252 is Poland’s Rafal Sonik. All eyes will also be on Argentina’s Jeremias González Ferioli, who will become the youngest ever competitor to start the Dakar Rally when he crosses the start line on his Yamaha Raptor shortly after his 18th birthday.
Cyril Despres, Yamaha Factory Racing
“Right now we are in the final phase of preparations before leaving for South America and its pretty busy around here! I have an intensive training routine that I have established with my coach and it takes up a large chunk of the day. Then there’s interviews to do, last minute details to sort out with the team, a million little details to attend to, not least of which is analyzing the 2014 route. Obviously we only get the road book the day before we race a stage so the info we have is limited.
“It is clear is that the 2014 edition is going to be a particularly tough one. Marathon stages means no outside mechanical assistance at the bivouac and so on those days you try and protect the bike as much as possible. Bike only routes means that the organisers can take you places where the cars can’t go, so you know the riding will be more technical and usually more physically demanding. The extra 1000km speak for themselves! And of course this year the bikes will go into Bolivia for the first time. On some of the other stages we have a pretty good idea of what to expect but for Bolivian stages we have absolutely no idea and even if we wanted to go and have a look we couldn’t because all reconnaissance is banned. What we do know is that they will be very demanding. For a start some of it’ll be raced at 4000m and at those altitudes the air’s pretty thin. Then Bolivia is both ‘marathon’ and ‘bike only’, so doubly complicated. But demanding is fine by me. What attracted me to rally-raid in the first place is the challenge and the harder it is the happier I am.”
Frans Verhoeven, Yamaha Netherlands Verhoeven
“I’m physically and mentally prepared and ready to compete with the best rally riders in the world. I am very happy with my Yamaha YZ450F Rally; it is an update of the Dakar 2013 bike with several detail improvements. It proved to be very fast and reliable last year. The new country where we are racing is Bolivia, but that’s only half a day and a night in a marathon bivouac, so we’ll get along much of the land itself. I am looking forward to tackling the longer stages, partly because in recent years the courses were getting shorter and more explosive and longer and more difficult stages are perfect for me.”
Oliver Pain, Yamaha Factory Racing
“Just before the Dakar is a little bit like the calm before the storm. There are always some last minute things to attend to and you want to maintain your fitness levels but you also want to rest as much as possible and spend time with your family. Back in November the ASO made quite clear that the 2014 Dakar is going to be a hard one. We know that in Argentina it is likely to be very hot along the foothills of Andes and that in Chile we’ll have plenty of dunes and fesh-fesh. Want we don’t really know is what we’ll get in Bolivia. All we know is that we’ll be at altitude, which will make recuperation difficult and we won’t have any outside mechanical assistance. In addition we have another marathon stage and several days of bike only routes, all of which suggests January in South America won’t be much of a holiday. But then if it was none of us would want to be going!”
Mickael Metge, Yamaha Factory Racing
“This is my second Dakar so I can’t make many comparisons with previous editions. Last year I was getting really tired and we didn’t have any stages over 500km. Now we have two stages over 500km and two over 600km! I was already training pretty hard but now I virtually live in the gym! This year I’m supporting Cyril whereas last year I didn’t have that responsibility. We have spent a lot of time together since he joined and we get on really well, which is important because in my role communication and understanding what ‘my’ rider needs is vital. I have been soaking up his knowledge and experience like a sponge. His approach to the Dakar is almost scientific, I’m not sure there’s anyone racing a rally bike today that has his depth of understanding and I’ve learnt loads just sitting chatting on the way to training sessions. To be honest now I can’t wait to get going.”