KTM teams are preparing for some of the harshest conditions they've seen as the new location brings many new challanges.
The Dakar, 5650 km of pure adventure over some of Argentina's and Chile's toughest terrain, will launch the KTM Factory team and many other participants riding the "Made in Austria" machines into 18 days of excitement and fierce competition.
Etienne Lavigne, the Dakar race director has described the event as existing "…above all because of a longing for discovery and a capacity to confront the unknown". In the months and weeks leading up to the 18-day race through a major slice of the South American continent, the frisson of excitement has become a rush of adrenalin as the KTM team moves into the final countdown for the major rally event of the season.
A new era
The last minute cancellation on the eve of the 2008 Dakar left teams and organizers bitterly disappointed. While everyone admitted the cancellation was necessary as security could no longer be guaranteed in some of the countries of Africa, it also meant that a year of dedicated preparation had all been for nothing. Or was it? Now those same participants, including the KTM factory team are facing the inaugural 2009 Dakar in South America with renewed passion and determination.
The Olympic Games of rally sport
"This is the real "Olympic Games "of rally sport and because the 2009 Dakar will be at a completely different location it will surely generate a lot of global interest," said KTM team manager Alex Doringer. "It is always one of the biggest highlights every year for the KTM factory. From the point of view of the company, we don't just take care of the factory team. There are 235 competitors starting in the bikes category and more than 55% will be riding KTM machines."
Top class KTM factory team
Onboard the single cylinder, four-stroke KTM 690 Rally motorcycle for the KTM Factory Team will be previous Dakar winners Cyril Despres of France (Red Bull KTM) and Spaniard Marc Coma (Repsol KTM) who are not only each other's toughest rivals but also go into the race as the favourites. They are joined by Jordi Viladoms of Spain (Repsol KTM) and Frenchman Alain Duclos (Kaestle KTM).
"Even though a lot of things will change it is reasonable to expect that Marc will continue to be my principle rival," Despres said during preparation. "Wherever we race in the world it is usually between me and him and I can't see that being any different. That's fine by me. We always fight clean and have tremendous respect for each other."
Coma too is quietly confident: "We have a new Dakar in 2009 and this also means new deserts. But I am confident that it will also be great and that it will have the same kind of Dakar spirit. That means it will be hard and there will be risks to take."
Months of hard preparation; fantastic variety of terrain
Both of these leading riders have come off months of preparation on and off the bike, fine-tuning their physical and mental skills as well as those on their KTM machines. Both have had some experience riding in parts of South America, but there are also parts of the course that are completely new territory. Among the huge challenges and a much more varied amount of terrain, they face extremes of temperature and altitudes up to an oxygen-robbing, 4700 meters. Beginning and ending in Buenos Aires, the ride takes them over the legendary Argentina Pampas, into Patagonia, across the terrifyingly high Andes mountains, across hundreds of kilometers of desert and sand dunes so typical of the Chilean coastal areas, including the Atacama Desert, known as the world's driest.
Logistical challenges and local enthusiasm
The race also represents huge logistical challenges for organizers and teams but they take it up in the same adventurous spirit of the event. Organizers are also expecting an enthusiastic reaction from the local populations, especially as the South American countries have a solid tradition in rally sports.
Dakar obligatory for KTM
"To be at the biggest and most famous rally in the world is obligatory for KTM," said team manager Doringer. "We have enjoyed a lot of success in the past and with the way our team is working we can keep the positive image level very high. At the end of the day it is about selling bikes and a lot of it is about our image, how we perform in races and how we interact with our customers. I think we are one of the best in all of these things."
Exploring new horizons; facing new challenges
Stage One of the Dakar 2009 begins in Buenos Aires on Saturday January 3, 2009. Teams and riders will then be running on full gas until the completion of Stage 14 back in the Argentinean capital on January 17, 2009. KTM factory riders Despres and Coma, as the world's elite riders, are expected to be at the front of the field, but this is a brand new chapter in the history of the race. Lavinge, Director of the Dakar says: "Competitors who participate in this exceptional edition will have the opportunity to explore hew horizons on the grandiose territories offered them." The KTM factory team is "Ready to Race" in the first ever South American Dakar, to meet the challenges of those grandiose territories and are determined, once again, to make Orange the event's dominant colour. "Obviously we are favourites for the final victory," said Doringer. "So our first goal must be to achieve that ambition - a podium full of KTM factory riders would be nice!"
Follow the 2009 Dakar on www.ktm.com