D-2 : Red Sea and green lights in Jeddah

D-2: RED SEA AND GREEN LIGHTS IN JEDDAH

Key points:

Ø The last preparatory phase for the Dakar is taking place for the third consecutive year in Jeddah, on the shores of the Red Sea. Whilst the King Abdallah Stadium has been taken over by the race officials responsible for the rally’s administrative checks and technical scrutineering, the doctors and their teams have also been busy in light of the COVID pandemic context in which the race is taking place. A campaign of 3,500 PCR tests has been organised for all people with a pass for the event. Indeed, the protocol implemented required a negative test to be able to travel to Saudi Arabia.

Ø After having satisfied the health requirements, the riders, drivers and crews summoned got to grips with the scrutineering circuit in order to be ready for the first stage to Ha’il on 1st January. The BRX team’s Sébastien Loeb and “Nani” Roma were able to give voice to their ambitions in the car category, just like the riders of the Honda team, who have won the last two editions on two wheels. However, their rivals at Yamaha have a new trump card in their pack in Andrea Peterhansel, charged with striving in the wings of the blue team to try and bring back the title that her husband won for the constructor in 1998.

Ø In an atmosphere of renewed acquaintances, many riders and drivers’ thoughts were with the six times winner of the truck category Karel Loprais, who died this morning in the Czech Republic.

DEATH OF KAREL LOPRAIS: THE CZECHS IN SHOCK

On the day when scrutineering started, the truck category has lost one of its leading historical figures. Beset by ill health for the last few weeks, Karel Loprais passed away this morning in the Czech Republic, where he became a veritable hero after triumphing on the Dakar six times behind the wheel of his Tatra truck (in 1988, 1994, 1995, 1998, 1999 and 2001). The driver from Ostrava was the pride of his country, where he was named road safety ambassador, and could also lay claim to a prestigious place in the history of the Dakar. Only Vladimir Chagin (with 7 titles) and Stéphane Peterhansel (with 14 titles) lie ahead of him on the roll of honour. Following his success on the tracks and dunes, he retained close links with the discipline, passing on his passion to all his family, especially his nephew Aleš, who is present today to undergo the checks prior to his 15th Dakar as a driver. The man who discovered the Dakar as navigator in his uncle’s crew emotionally explained: “He was an icon for us. He was the figurehead for motorsport and the truck category in the Czech Republic. We were constantly in touch because we build the trucks together. He would come and see us each morning to have a coffee and see how our “ladies” are doing, that’s what we call them. So, it’s a loss that can’t be described… but he will be here in our hearts with us on this rally. He was always positive about our chances, without giving me advice but simply telling me, ‘You know what you need to do’”. The Dakar organisation teams would like to present their sincere condolences to the family, friends and all those close to Karel Loprais, starting with the members of the Instaforex Loprais Praga Team.

SÉBASTIEN LOEB: “FIND THE RIGHT PACE AND REMAIN HUMBLE”

The French driver and nine-times world rally champion is making his 6th attempt at the Dakar on a race that has withstood his efforts since his first participation in 2016. Loeb will be racing for the second time in the colours of Team BRX, but in a car that has been significantly reworked since the previous edition, accompanied by a new co-pilot, Fabian Lurquin, with whom he has only competed in one race, on the Baja Aragon: “It hasn’t been one year without racing for me, but rather one year without a rally-raid. We’ve carried out tests, but perhaps not over as many kilometres as we would have liked to because we’ve had setbacks. However, the car is running really well and the feeling is very good with my new co-pilot. We’ve only just started competing together, so now we will have to make sure everything clicks into place: the Dakar is a complicated race and we will have to find the right pace and remain humble. What’s most important is that we have a reliable car. At any rate, we are fairly well prepared”.

PETERHANSEL BACK AT YAMAHA!

The Dakar 2021 was not a fondly remembered rally for Yamaha. None of the “Blues” managed to reach the finish. The brand with the tuning fork logo reacted by a hard turn. The first act was to reduce the team to three riders, followed by the second in which the figureheads in the management were changed and replaced by a… Peterhansel. This may seem like a joke, but Andrea Peterhansel, the new Yamaha sporting manager, is not the type to joke around about the Dakar. Under the name of Andrea Mayer, she even finished 5th on a bike in 2000 for KTM, before repeating this feat on four wheels in 2004 for Mitsubishi. Her knowledge of the event naturally made the difference when Yamaha were choosing the right person to get to grips with the situation: “Marc Bourgeois contacted me to help restructure the team. It’s not my prime occupation, but I do have 25 years of experience. We have made our decisions and will have to stick by them, but that’s just part of the job,” she explains. The third act in this sea-change was that Branch, Short and Van Beveren all took part in four legs of the world championship with a machine now under the technical supervision of Stéphane Peterhansel’s former mechanic, leading to a victory for the man from Botswana in Kazakhstan, a second place in Abu Dhabi for the Frenchman and a runner-up place in the world championship for VBA as well as in the constructors’ championship. So far, so good for the troop leader, who has been able to identify everybody’s qualities and limits before tackling the Dakar: “There is a great atmosphere and they’ve made progress throughout the year. Adrien has regained confidence and speed as well, Ross has learned to ride more calmly, whilst Andrew is already a very complete rider with excellent strategic qualities, a safe bet”.

 

BRADLEY COX… FOLLOWING IN HIS FATHER’S TRACKS

At the age of 23 years old, number 49 is getting ready to bring back the name of Cox to the Dakar… on a KTM, to boot. Bradley is none other than the son of Alfie, an official KTM rider from 1998 to 2005, three times finisher on the Dakar podium (2nd in 2002) and winner of eight stages. Bradley was ten years old when the South African legend hung up his motorcycling boots and could already boast 5 years of participation in motocross. At the age of fifteen years, he set off to try his luck on the European motocross circuit, living alone in Belgium. After a series of injuries, he returned home at the age of 18 years where his career, this time in enduro, took off. Like his father, Bradley went on to dominate the South African off-road scene, before drawing inspiration from one of his local rivals: “Two years ago, I saw the success Ross Branch enjoyed and that encouraged me to try out rallying. After the various Covid restrictions, I finally managed to take part in the Rallye du Maroc last October”. This initial experience took place under the watchful gaze of his father Alfie: “During the first few days, I asked him if it was what he really wanted to do: getting up in the middle of the night to go and bounce along on the saddle in the cold during the link routes to the specials. He said yes, so that was it, off he went”. Bradley is readying himself to “following in my father’s footsteps, twenty years afterwards”. Not content with this, he even rides like his dad: “When you look at the pictures of my father and me on a rally bike, we are both fairly small and are always leaning forwards on the bike. I like to think that I’m just as fast as he was! But we’ll see if that’s true once I’ve ridden as many Dakar rallies as he did”.

A LESS ‘TYRING’ TIME FOR THE BIKERS

Set up last year to improve the “passive safety” of the bikers, the rule limiting the number of tyres to six for the entire race has been revised for the 2022 edition to permit double the amount. The image of Toby Price patching up his tyre with a whole host of plastic clamps on the previous rally did the rounds on the social networks and convinced David Castera to reconsider his position: “The rule didn’t change much and instead gave rise to a fair number of complications. We went a bit too far and we have decided to come back to a happier medium by placing the limit at one tyre per day. This will prevent the bikers from changing their wheel during the stage, meaning they will have to manage their machines better”. The objective has not changed, namely to encourage the riders to go easier on their steads in order to reduce risk-taking. Twelve tyres of the same model for the entire thirteen days of racing means they will have two days to handle with one set on the marathon stage and will face a penalty if they exchange tyres with another competitor. Indeed, the marathon stage will take place on days 2 and 3 and could hold some early surprises in store…

QUINTANILLA IN TRANSITION

After two consecutive victories, the Honda clan would have wanted to arrive in Jeddah without a single change to its plans. However, Kevin Benavides, the title holder, gave into the siren calls of KTM who will now have rider number 1 racing for them. HRC’s immediate response was to recruit Pablo Quintanilla from Husqvarna. The Chilean has not taken long to get to grips with the 450 CRF Rally bike and even tasted victory after a two-year absence of triumphs by winning the Rallye du Maroc last October. The red’s new recruit is ready to win his first Dakar: “Honestly, I feel great on the bike as well as in the team and I’m arriving at the rally perfectly prepared. I’ve covered lots of kilometres with the bike, I feel strong and ready to win the rally. All the riders are experienced and are different in this team. Joan has age and speed on his side, Nacho is a very good navigator, Ricky knows what it takes to win the Dakar, so I think it’s a good mix that provides us with all the tools to win the title. It’s my tenth Dakar, I’ve got thousands of kilometres under the belt, my speed is good and these last few months I’ve done loads of training in Northern Chile with Nacho. I think my navigational skills have greatly improved compared to previous years”.

AN IMPRESSIVE FIELD FOR THE DAKAR CLASSIC!

A total of 144 participants will be taking starter’s orders on 1st January for the start of the second edition of the Dakar Classic. The Marseillaise will hail the start of the adventure for forty-four French crews, with most of the vehicles dating from between 1980 and 2000. Thirty-seven Spanish crews, eighteen Italians and pairs of Dutch or Belgian competitors will be attempting to wrestle the crown from the hands of last year’s winner Frenchman Marc Douton. One single non-European competitor will be present. Amy Lerner is American and will be behind the wheel of a Porsche 911, like the title holder and two other crews. These four legendary vehicles from the Dakar of the 1980s will be facing off with a quartet of Lada Nivas, three Peugeot 504s and, amazingly, no more than six Range Rovers. There is nothing surprising, however, about the presence of no less than forty-one Toyotas, including fifteen HDJ 80. Nineteen Mitsubishis will be present to once again shine a light on the diamond brand’s record of twelve victories, closely followed by twelve Mercedes in the car category. The Stuttgart based constructor will be in the majority in the truck category, with eight representatives against four MAN trucks.