2012 Dakar: Yamaha Pushes for Glory

2012 Dakar Rally

While many will awake January 1 a bit on the groggy side, some of the world’s toughest competitors will begin a trek that will take them almost 5,600 miles through South America.

New Year’s Day is the start of the 2012 Dakar Rally, which will begin in Mal Del Plata, Argentina, and end Jan. 15 in Lima, Peru; these year’s race consist of 14 race days, and only one rest day.

One manufacturer will be well represented in 2012 Dakar – Yamaha. The Japanese manufacturer will be ridden by 40 riders out of the 188 entered in the motorcycle class, and over half of the 32 entrants in the Quad category.

In the motorcycle class, Yamaha competitors will compete aboard the WR450 F and YZ450F machines, with the most popular rider being Portugal’s Helder Rodriques.

Rodriques, the 2011 FIM Cross Country Rallies Champion, won a stage in 2011 Dakar and took third overall behind Cyril Despres (KTM) and winner Marc Coma (KTM). Rodriques took top-five positions in four of five Dakars he contested in. Yamaha says his success in the FIM series will be well noted among his rally rivals, many of whom were part of the four round campaign this year and know that the 32 year old cannot be discounted from a realistic shot of overall victory.

Helder Rodriques says"My objective is to finish even better," he said to the official Dakar website. "Like last year I worked all season to improve. This year’s route should allow me to show that I know how to take on the pitfalls and complexities of the rally."

The American Jonah Street will also be on a Yamaha, competing on a WR450F for the third consecutive year. Although Street finished 12th overall in 2011 Dakar, he won stage nine. In 2010 Dakar, Street finished seventh overall.

Several Frenchman will compete in 2012 Dakar aboard Yamaha motorcycles, including Olivier Pain, who won a stage in 2011, but crashed and broke his wrist in the race. He classified ninth in 2010 and at the age of 29 is one of the younger competitors in the crop, Yamaha reports.

The other is David Casteu, who was Dakar Vice Champion in 2007; he now joins Yamaha Moto France alongside Pain as he preps for his eight Dakar Rally.

David Casteu says: "It means a lot to me to ride for Yamaha. It is a constructor with a soul and a history on the Dakar. I am part of the generation that was spellbound by Peterhansel’s wins on a Yamaha. Now, what I wish is to end my career as a rider with Yamaha and then create projects for the next generation.

"Today, our goal is to win the Dakar. Rodrigues rides for Yamaha Portugal and at Yamaha France we have two lead riders, Olivier Pain and myself. The bike has made progress compared to last year and for my part I will make a few changes to my strategy. I will set off a little slower and ride with a ‘wait and see’ approach."

2012 Dakar: Yamaha Quads (from a Yamaha press release)

While Yamaha will look on with relish at the competition among the bikes, they can feel highly confident when it comes to the Quads; now fixed with a 750cc limit for the engines. Argentina boasts a plethora of extremely capable drivers in this discipline and at the top of the tree are the Patronelli brothers, Marcos and Alejandro, who have claimed the last two Dakars between them on their Yamaha YFM700Rs.

It was the latter, Alejandro, who grasped the crown while nursing a hand injury this year as 2010 winner Marcos had to retire with physical problems. The older sibling (Alejandro) has notched seven stage victories in two years and the pair has yet to classify outside of the top two in their attempts at the Dakar. Following the Patronellis’ is fellow countryman Tomas Maffei, also Yamaha Raptor mounted, and a stage conqueror back in January. Another stage victor from the previous Dakar is Czech veteran Josef Machacek, who will also roll into the Argentine capital. Among the Women’s competition FIM Cross Country Rallies World Champion Camelia Liparoti will be aiming to better her previous finish of 10th. Yamaha owned eleven of the thirteen 2011 Quad stages with five different riders; anything approaching the same level of achievement will be outstanding.

The 2012 Dakar will involve two extra days of racing – now fourteen – as the bikes, quads, cars and trucks, plough a course from the Atlantic ocean on one side of the continent to the Pacific on the other. The diverse terrain of the Andes and the Atacama Desert now with a trip into the heart of Peru awaits; mountain paths, canyons and forestry will turn to dunes and beach backdrops. Endurance, resistance, mechanical guile and navigational skill are just some of the characteristics that will prove vital.

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One of the few moto journalists based on the East Coast, Ron Lieback joined the motorcycle industry as a freelancer in 2007 and is currently Editor at Large at Ultimate Motorcycling. He is also the author of 365 to Vision: Modern Writer's Guide (How to Produce More Quality Writing in Less Time).