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For most Americans, the Dakar Rally is a hard-to-learn a foreign language, ironically as daunting as learning French. No American has ever won the event and only a small handful have earned podiums. Gordon-Grider, Mark Miller, Chris Blais, and Jimmy Lewis have all flown the stars and stripes at the finish. This year, however, there are no Americans riding in the event. (Johnny Campbell will co-drive for Robby Gordon)
“Who will attack Marc Coma?”
That is the question and, for North Americans, this story plays out much like the HONDA/ Bruce Ogivie / Johnny Campbell dynasty in SCORE’s record book. It’s been a great run for KTM’s DAKAR program but all things must come to and end. For a decade, Dakar Rally titles were split between Coma (4) and former stable mate Cyril Despres, (5) who has retired from motorbikes and now driving a Red Bull Peugeot with Picard Gilles.
Marc Coma (KTM):
The Catalan is a virtual matador who has taunted the Dakar with the patience and precision that requires maturity, wisdom and experience. At the climactic moment, he’s slain the beast. He may have 2 more runs in him before the young guns Sam Sunderland (KTM) and Joan Barreda (HON) jocky for position along with seasoned vets, Rodrigues, Pain, Duclos, and Goncalves. Lets consider their chances.
Young Guns: They are rising up and setting the stage for the continued global expansion of the sport. They are hip, savvy and connecting with their fan bases on social media. The young guns hold the keys to the future and they know it.
Joan Barreda (HRC):
The charismatic Spaniard (31) is seeded second behind Coma in this edition, after contending for the win last year and earning 2nd in the 2014 FIM Championship with 10 stage wins. He seems young, volatile and very fast when needed, although that is tough to contain. He’s earned the nick name “Bang Bang” for his sometimes wild riding. He’s a warrior who’s learning to contain himself and represents HRC’s best chances to dethrone both KTM and fellow countryman Coma. He must contain himself to succeed.
Sam Sunderland (KTM):
The Brit (25) who lives and trains in Dubai, has failed to finish both of his prior starts. “SunderSam” won stage 2 of the last Dakar on his HRC HONDA but lost a motor on the following day. Sam’s FIM resume is solid including a podium (with teammate Coma) in Morocco and he’s approaching his Dakar career with a realistic humility, “You have to treat it with respect. I would love to win of course, but it would be naïve to think that having never finished.”For sure, you can bet on SunderSam winning a stage again.
The Veterans: – In comparison to BAJA racing where youth and machismo is an advantage, age favors a Dakar champion well into his 30’s. That’s because of the complex dynamics of racing unknown stage routes for 2 weeks straight.
Paulo Goncalves (HRC):
The 2013 FIM Champion went viral last year after a dramatic scene showed the 34 year old Portuguese in tears as he watched his HRC prototype burn in flames after a fuel leak. In 2012 Cyril Despres left Goncalves in a mud hole after helping free the Frenchman and getting stuck as a result. “Speedy” Goncalves is a team player and while its conceivable that he could win, it’s just not a good bet. He’s never finished in the top 10 and seems determined to help HRC rise to the top, something that would certainly reward him.
Olivier Pain (YAM):
The Frenchman led the Dakar for 4 days in 2013 on his promising Yamaha, but a navigation error erased his lead on what would have been his 5 day. His job in 2014 was to support (water-carrier) for Cyril Despres and ended up finishing 3rd overall, thus outshining the master. Now Pain is the top gun at Yamaha. Expect at least 1 or 2 stage wins from Pain and the chance to bring Yamaha back to their reign form the mid 1990’s.
Ruben Faria (KTM): Faria has always been in the shadow of Coma and Despres at the Dakar. A carreer water-carrier, Faria is extremely experienced and trained by his masters at KTM. A stage win is very realistic. An overall win would be a surprise.
Helder Rodrigues HRC: The 5-time stage winner is poised to win stages for HRC and a very likely candidate for an OA podium. Seeded 5th, we like his chances on HRC. Between Helder, Speedy and Bang Bang, HRC is the team most poised to take over.
Favorites: We will place our bet on Coma winning the 2015 Dakar and then perhaps announcing retirement from bike racing, following Cyril Despres’s footsteps into the 4-wheel fray. HRC’s is a likely second (Barreda or Rodrigues) with Sam Sunderland (KTM) rounding out the podium. HRC’s Laia Sanz has a reasonable shot at a top 10 overall.
Ever wonder what the Dakar Rally pilots and navigators have to do to find the finish line each day. Roadbook navigation only seems daunting. US privateer and rally pioneer Charlie Rauseo wrote this white paper to help anyone quickly learn the ins and outs of rally navigation. Read Charlie’s excerpt from his Dakar Rally Handbook HERE
Tools for learning rally: Rally Navigator is a web-based software application that uses Google Earth and allows you to make and print road books to train for rally stages. There’s a free version and an enhanced version. You can create your own rally stages and share with friends to train. There is also a very good video to help you learn
Rally Management Services: RMS is a leader of North American rally training, logistics and support services. RMS, sells and services all the gear you’ll need to get started correctly. There universal rally navigation kit mounts right onto your bike’s handlebars.
RALLY BLITZ APP: Rally Blitz is an app for iPhone or iPad that turns your device into an adjustable odometer and digital compass. It’s GPS based and extremely accurate but it drains the device’s batteries fast. The fact that you can re-adjust (bump up and bump down) your mileage, allows you to stay accurate if you miss a turn or navigation note.