Most riders will be on modified versions of production enduros like Johnson’s Honda CRF450X, but the top riders will be on bespoke race prototypes.
The KTM 450 Rally has dominated the race since it went 450cc, nevertheless, this year’s machine is all new. Starting with the firm’s signature steel trellis frame (look how huge that is!) and a unique version of its four-stroke 450 race motor, the Rally is equipped with twin, saddle-style fuel tanks on each side and a third, auxiliary tank under the seat. Riders can select which tanks the fuel is drawn from, allowing them to alter the weight distribution front-to-rear throughout each stage. The hefty carbon front subframe carries the lights, as well as the navigation and communications equipment. Competitors navigate via a traditional route book, while a beacon alerts them when they near a waypoint. No GPS navigation here. An onboard alarm also goes off when one of the faster cars is about to pass.
Built by Yamaha France, Cyril Despres’s YZ450F promises to be very competitive. Based around the company’s flagship motocross racer, the bike features a rearward-slanted cylinder to boost mass centralization.
The Honda CRF450 Rally is a full factory effort built by HRC. Based on the CRF450X, it’s been upgraded with bespoke suspension geometry, and additional fuel tanks low down on each side of the engine. It finished 7th and 8th last year, during its first Dakar. Expect to see a stronger showing this time around.
How Do You Watch It?
If you live elsewhere in the world, just tune your television to one of your regular sports channels; the race receives massive coverage in Europe and South America. In the U.S., you aren’t as lucky. The rally’s YouTube page publishes a short recap each day, with some of the best action. That’s a good place to start, but if you’re really in need of a strong Dakar fix, you’re going to have a go a little legally grey. The ADVRider forum is a great resource for torrents of foreign Dakar coverage; you can find the relevant thread here.
Want to check in on the go? Download the 2014 Dakar app for your smartphone.
Who’s Going To Win?
There’s a lot more variables at play than simply best rider and fastest bike. With 13 days of racing through harsh terrain and changeable weather, luck plays a huge role too. Despite his unproven bike, my money is on Cyril Despres. He’s proven he has the metal to win time and again and Yamaha France has both the technical ability and motivation to build a winning machine. The fastest man in the race wouldn’t have signed with the team if he didn’t think he’d have a solid chance to win.
Still, the safe money, of course, is on KTM. With three victories under his belt, Marc Coma is the second most successful Dakar racer entering this year. In 2011, Coma even beat Despres in a fair fight.
Who's your favorite in the Despres/Coma, Yamaha/KTM battle? Do you think Honda's in with a chance? And, how do you follow the race? Tell us in comments below.