Interview with Red Bull KTM rider Cyril Despres
You are now in the final stages of your preparation for the Dakar 2009. How was your final training in France and how important for your preparation was your victory in the UAE Desert challenge?
Red Bull KTM rider Cyril Despres with his KTM 690 Rally.
The tests in France went very well. We know the new 690 rally bike pretty well now so really it was just some fine tuning, plus running the engines in. The UAE victory was important on a number of levels. First off, it is always good to win a race - especially when all your major rivals are present! It was also an excellent warm up for the Dakar. Although the terrain in South America will be different, it was a chance for the team to work together and sort out any last minute problems. The UAE win confirmed that everything was functioning as it should.
How have you been personally preparing for the first ever Dakar in South America? You seem to have a special relationship with Africa through your support for kids and schools. Will you miss not having the race on that continent?
Of course I will miss racing in Africa, though I am sure I will be out there shortly after the race to visit the kids and see how the schools are going. As far as the Dakar in South America is concerned I am really looking forward to it. The scenery will be amazing and the race as tough as any Dakar before it. As for my preparation, it is going really well. I am training as hard as ever, while at the same time trying to gather as much information as possible about the terrain we will be tackling.
For sure there will be many different challenges riding through a major part of Argentina and Chile. What are your own expectations about the race, the conditions and how you might finish?
The organisers have been very clear that it will be a tough race and I have no reason to doubt them. I think we will have most of what we would normally encounter in Africa, with plenty of dunes. The main difference will be the variety of terrain, plus I think there will less stony ground, of the sort we normally encounter in Morocco. As far as finishing is concerned, my firm intention is to be at the very top of the podium.
As it is probably unlikely that organizers will be able to hold the race in Africa in the near future because of the security problems, do you see this as a new era for the race? Are you optimistic for the future of the Dakar as a major sporting event?
Of course everybody involved in the Dakar has nostalgia for Africa, but my feeling is that once the competitors and the people back home have seen what South America has to offer they will be keen to return. The founder of the event, Thierry Sabine, always said that the race should visit other continents and other deserts, so in a way we are simply fulfilling his wishes. Personally I feel that the change of continent will breathe new life into the event and that it will become more famous than ever.
This is unchartered territory but are you still expecting Marc (Coma) to be your biggest rival? Will it be a continuation of the rivalry of Despres and Coma in the 2009 Dakar?
Cyril Despres in testing his KTM 690 Rally.
Even though a lot of things will change it is reasonable to expect that Marc will continue to be my principle rival. 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.
Have you had any experience riding in Argentina and Chile and what do you think will be the biggest contrasts when compared to riding in Africa?
I have raced the Los Pampas Rally in Chile one time, so neither country is a completely unknown quantity to me. Apart from the difference in scenery, the high temperature and the high altitudes I suspect the biggest change will be our contact with the local population. The South Americans are big motor sport fans and I think we will have a lot more spectators out on the specials than we get in the Sahara!
Looking beyond the Dakar 2009, what are your plans and goals for the 2009 racing season?
Although nothing has been finalized yet it looks like we will be doing quite a lot of racing in the desert next year and that suits me fine. The 690 needs a little room to get the best out of it, so any race with wide open spaces is perfect. And as always I will be looking to do as well as possible in every race I enter. But Dakar first …
Interview with Team Manager Alex Doringer
The Dakar Race 2009 represents new challenges for teams. How different is it to prepare for the race in South America than for the equivalent in Africa?
KTM Team Manager Alex Doringer.
In total I would say the preparation is more less the same. The biggest difference might be the schedule! With this year's Dakar being held in South America we have to ship all the material approximately one month before the race starts. The first step will be to bring all the vehicles to Le Havre.
This is new territory for all riders. Does this wipe the slate clean and mean that there are really no favourites for the 2009 Dakar?
Most of the top riders have ridden before in South America. On paper, the favourites are the same as they were one year ago!
Who are the factory riders for KTM and do you expect riders like Marc Coma and Cyril Despres to be among the absolute favourites this year?
We have Cyril Despres, Marc Coma, Jordi Viladoms and Alain Duclot in the factory team. Many things are needed to win a race and these are not easy to calculate. On paper I would believe the top riders, the favourites, are the same as they were one year ago. For sure our team, our riders and our Rally Bikes are ready to race and always ready to win!
Describe how the preparations are made from the perspective of the factory riders
The riders know that this Dakar will be very tough for them. They are making at lot of physical and mental preparation as well as countless hours on the bikes. So there are many different types of training - mental, physical, riding the bike and working with the team. It is also very important during preparation to use the rest days well. They will use these days to collect as much information as possible about the new terrain we will find in Argentina and Chile.
What kind of pressure is on the KTM factory team, given the fact that they have been so dominant in recent years?
It's a kind of positive pressure for me and the team. We know we are ready and after all the hard preparation, we are looking forward to the start of the race. We will go there and work as hard as possible to reach our goals and to bring home the glory for KTM, our sponsors and of course our fans!
From a rider's perspective, what do you expect will be the biggest differences in holding the race in South America as against the classic Africa race?
All KTM factory teams are preparing for one of the most difficult rally races of the year in a whole new environment.
I think we will find most of what we would normally encounter in Africa and there will certainly be plenty of dunes and mountains - on Day 7 we will go up to 3250 m. The natural terrain during selective sections will be mostly on sand, soil or stones. The main difference will be the variety of terrain. We also have to pass over the Cordillere at 4000 m altitude!
Looking beyond the KTM factory team how important is this race for the KTM brand image as one of the world's leading sports motorcycle manufacturers?
This are the Olympic games in the rally sport ! The 2009 Dakar at different location after the cancel the 2008 edition will be very interesting for many people global !! For KTM factory one of the biggest highlights every year. From the company side we are not only taking care about the factory team . There will start 235 competitors in the bikes category . More than 55% are on KTM product . To attend the biggest and most famous Rally in the world is for KTM obligatory and with the great success we had in the past and the way our team is working , we keep the level of the positive image high ! In the end of the day we have to sale bikes . Big part about image will be always results at races and how u act with customers ! In both parts we are one of the bests .
Alex what are your goals for the Dakar and the season 2009!
Obviously we are favourites for the final victory, so our first goal must be to achieve that ambition - a podium full of KTM factory riders would be nice! In total there will be 20 team members and on a more personal level my goal is to create a good atmosphere between everyone and get everybody safely to the end.