KTM Previews 2011 Dakar Rally

2011 Dakar Rally

The KTM brand has become synonymous with off-road motorcycle racing and in particular the most challenging of annual rallies, the Dakar.

When this 16-day test of man and machines begins in Buenos Aires on Jan. 1, 2011 it heralds a new era for the Austrian motorcycle manufacturer with four factory-supported riders competing on the latest KTM 450 Rally enduro motorcycle.

KTM is also attempting to capture the highly prized title for the tenth consecutive time. The bikes and riders representing the brand from Austria have won the race each time it was held since they first lifted the trophy in 2001.

The 2008 rally was cancelled on the eve of the Dakar race after terrorist threats from North Africa, after which organizers decided to move the annual event to South America.

When motorcycle riders depart from the Argentinean capital on New Year’s Day they start 16 days of pure adventure that calls upon all their racing and tactical skills and demands 100 percent physical and mental fitness.

Designed to test both riders and machinery to the limits of endurance, the motorcycle race makes a large loop through Argentina and Chile taking in a huge variety of terrain, including crossing the Andes and days in the Atacama Desert, recognized as the driest place on the planet.

Spearheading the KTM attack are two riders that are recognized as the world’s finest exponents of the sport – French-born Cyril Despres and Spaniard Marc Coma, who have won three and two Dakar trophies respectively for KTM.

In 2011 they lead two separate teams and their co-riders are Ruben Faria of Portugal and Juan Pedrero Garcia of Spain. All four riders will be onboard the brand new KTM 450 Rally bike, which has been designed by KTM’s R&D Department in close cooperation with the KTM Racing Department with valuable input from the two key factory riders.

The KTM 450 Rally has been specifically developed for the Dakar in response to a rule change by the organizers in 2009, which limited the engine size down to 450 cc.

The new bike, unveiled to the general public at Milan’s EICMA Motorcycle Show in November, first saw action in the Rally of Morocco in October 2010 when Cyril Despres won the title.

Riders can cover 800-900 km (500-560 miles) per day, although some stages are shorter. The majority of the competitors are amateurs, many competing to fulfill a lifelong dream. KTM is not only at the Dakar to support its own factory riders but also to give practical support to a large contingent of privateers.

The company makes hire bikes available and customer packages that include comprehensive servicing and spare parts plus valuable expert input that ensures that the experience of what might be a once in a lifetime experience for some riders can be a lasting memory and the adventure of a lifetime. For this and other major rallies, KTM is present with a full range of services and the KTM Service Truck

Some of the route through Argentina and Chile for this the third edition of the South American Dakar (and the 33rd annual) will be familiar to the KTM riders and some not. They already know the white dunes of Fiambala and Chile’s Atacama Desert.

They know what its like to experience the thrilling Andean descent to Iquique but this year they get to know five new provinces in Argentina. They will go very close to Bolivia and reach the northern-most tip of Chile on the border of Peru.

Organizers have also reduced GPS functions for guidance to the so-called "way point markers" making navigation skills and reading and mastering the road book of vital importance.

This year organizers have designed the route so that the more difficult stages are in the second half of the rally so the level of suspense will increase along with the progress of the race.

They have promised that competitors and teams are in for an extreme endurance challenge and as both Coma and Despres know from personal and often bitter experience, the rally is never over until it’s over. Anything can happen and frequently does.

Cyril Despres of Andorra first competed in the Dakar in 2000 and finished 16th overall and second in his category. In 2001 he finished 12th and won his first stage victory. In 2003, he won three specials and finished second. He also won the Rally World Championship. In 2005, he scored his first outright victory in the Dakar on a factory KTM.

"That day will remain engraved in my memory forever," he said. "Winning the toughest race in the world and going up onto the podium surrounded by the Senegal crowd – Wow, what a great feeling," he recalls. Another Dakar trophy followed in 2007 and the third victory came in 2010.

This year Cyril reduced his race program to concentrate on contributing to the development of the new KTM 450 rally bike. After winning the Rally of Morocco in what was the KTM 450 Rally bike’s first outing, Cyril described it as "a dream competition debut".

Marc Coma, a native of Barcelona Spain was introduced to the sport at an early age through his father, who contested Spanish MX championship and his uncle, a dedicated fan. He went on to race motocross at regional, provincial and national level before moving to Enduro.

He won the Junior Spanish Championship in 1995 on a KTM 250 cc and raced international-level Enduro before committing to professional rally competition. Coma first contested the Dakar Rally in 2002 when he rode a CSV motorcycle but had to retire with mechanical problems while in the top 20 of the field.

He joined KTM as part of the Repsol team for the Dakar in 2003. He finished in third in four stages and established himself as a serious contender. The Spaniard then won the Dakar Rally in 2006 in Africa and in 2009 repeated the success in South America. In 2010 Coma won the Rally World Championship for the fourth time following on from his titles in 2005, 2006 and 2007.

Cyril Despres has chosen Portugal’s Ruben Faria as his team co-rider for Team Red Bull KTM. Born in 1974, Ruben first raced in 1982 in the Portuguese Championship after which he won a number of national MX and Enduro titles as well as, among others, being twice Portuguese Baja champion.

He has won three stages in the Dakar, which he says is his favorite race. He wants to finish in the top five in 2011.

Marc Coma has Spaniard Juan Pedrero García with him in Team MRW Red Bull. He first raced at age 14. He spent much of his early racing career in Enduro and first competed on a KTM motorcycle in 2008.

In 2010 he finished 10th in the Dakar. Pedrero has also placed second in the Baja Aragón.