It might well be a whole different ball game in the motorcycle race from now on… For many years, it was mostly an internal struggle between KTM team riders, for a while split between the Spanish and French branches of the constructor.
In the last few years, the motorcycle contest was even down to an exciting showdown between Cyril Despres and Marc Coma, both solid pacesetters in the discipline. But the steady rise of under 450cc motorcycles led the organizers to opt for such race bikes in the future, since they are now more reliable, reasonably cheaper, safer and far less thirsty than their more powerful counterparts. To make the shift easier towards an all-450cc field, top riders have been allowed to race this year with their 690cc motorcycles, on condition that their engines be equipped by an air input restrictor to curb their power.
It remains to be seen whether the two double race winners can retain their hold on the race under the new rules. Holder Coma and his arch-rival Despres have amply proved that they are peerless in terms of physical condition, riding skills and navigation. They will again be the leading favourites at the start in Buenos Aires. But the new deal will probably boost the ambitions of their rivals.
Among them, David Fretigne will be closely watched after his third place last year on a 450cc motorcycle. This time around, he will fight on equal terms. The test will be one of mental strength and experience as well for the Yamaha rider. Apart from Yamaha and Honda, several constructors have already launched serious programs to develop 450cc motorcycles with the Dakar in mind.
Italy’s Aprilia signed Francisco "Chaleco" Lopez, who is intent on taking his new colours to the very top. Chile’s Lopez will be on home ground in the Atacama desert. As for Frans Verhoeven, winner of two stages in 2009, he managed to convince BMW to return with a 450 cc. French team Sherco, who made a name for themselves on the enduro circuit, are eager to conquer the world of rally raid. They will count on David Casteu, 2nd in 2007 and 4th last year.