On New Year’s Day, 2017, the world’s most grueling rally, the Dakar, starts. The clock already ticks down to the ceremonial start in Asuncion, the capital of Paraguay. The 2017 Dakar Rally’s route spans three countries, Paraguay, Argentina, and Bolivia, over 12 stages, covering a distance of 8,818 km. More than 4,000 km of the total distance will be competed as special stages, where times are recorded, and every second counts.
The 2017 Dakar Rally will mark the 9th year since the event moved to South America. Scorching dunes, a route that rises 5 km above sea level, and unpredictable weather compounds the difficulty of the mid-summer rally. But, these world only hint at the harshness of the Dakar. In 2017, Bolivian stages have been increased, making it the “Battle of the High-ground.”
The years pass since Honda rejoined the Dakar. Monster Energy Honda Team’s factory machine, the CRF450 RALLY thunders across the South American land. Late November, the team, including the rally support truck with support staff, leave Le Havre, a French port town, heading towards the South American continent by sea.
The Dakar Rally rapidly approaches. The engineers who developed and prepared the bike reveal the team organization, the strategies, and the evolution of the CRF450 RALLY factory machine.
Acting Large Project Leader, Monster Energy Honda Team Rally Project
Project Leader, CRF450 RALLY design
How is the team organized for the 2017 Dakar?
Sasaki As soon as the Dakar 2016 finished, we began working on the team’s organization for 2017. We brought the team organization back in-house directly under HRC, and worked on developing a more nimble team including team management, mechanics, and logistics for the rally. By conducting tests with development team and riders directly talking to each other, we have improved communication between the groups radically.
What are the results to date?
Sasaki The team’s bond is even stronger than before. The entire team works as one on improving the bikes and developing strategies. It was clear to me as we did our testing by competing in rallies such as the Ruta 40 in Argentina, the China Grand Rally, and the Morocco Rally in the Northern Sahara. An added benefit was that by conducting tests straight after the rallies, we could gain the riders’ impressions of the bike while their feelings and emotions were fresh. The riders would suggest improvements that we would not realize before a rally, which resulted in a better development tempo, and a better sharing between the development team and riders of the problems, at the same location on the same terrain.
What did the riders say about the organizational changes?
Sasaki As an example, the riders would talk to each other during testing about how to tackle certain terrain, or individual ways of setting up the bike, and would try each others’ bikes and share questions they had during testing, advising each other and making improvements on bike setup and riding methods. The team has come closer together. We conducted these tests with the development team and riders close to the rally they had just raced, so the environment was similar, leading to accurately identifying improvements and providing details of any problems. This vastly improved their trust of one another.
Who are the riders?
Sasaki We’ll be racing with five riders:
Joan Barreda (#11)
He is probably the fastest Dakar rider. He has been training hard, and has the speed and excellent navigation skills. He is probably the rider with the best chance of winning the Dakar.
Paulo Goncalves (#17)
Paulo, like Joan, is also a fast rider. His strategy is to reserve energy in the first half of the rally, and mount a major attack.
Kevin Benavides (#4)
In 2016, Kevin raced for Honda South America Rally Team on a CRF450 RALLY, and he will be a part of the Monster Energy Honda Team in 2017. He finished 4th last year. Kevin is a South American rider with a strong will. The day after he won a special stage and started the next stage first, we was unperturbed by rivals trying to catch him.
※Kevin Benavides misses the Dakar Rally 2017 due to an injury in training
Ricky Brabec (#9)
Ricky, an American 25-year-old, is the youngest rider in the team. He is a promising rider, as he showed a lot of potential in the Morocco Rally in October.
Michael Metge (#15)
Michael is a rider with sensitivity and accuracy. He was a major asset in developing the 2017 machine. His mission is to ride as Joan’s support, and if something were to happen, rapidly assist in any way he can.
What is the strategy for the 2017 Dakar Rally?
Sasaki Our strength as a team. My predecessors who had won the title 4 times straight on NXR750s had once told me, “sometimes rallies go smooth, sometimes you’re unlucky. To win, you need the strength to persevere when you’re unlucky.” Racing in South America for the past five years, I really understand what they meant. Something always happens in a rally. You cannot panic, but keep your cool, deal with it, and battle on without giving up. The machines have been built on this philosophy, as has the team organization, which has matured and is now heading into its fifth year. I hope everyone will support us.