The rally raid season gets underway tomorrow in Abu Dhabi. Yet there are many things that remain to be seen for teams and riders. With Cyril Despres departing from KTM, Marc Coma now takes the role as sole team leader. It was expected that Despres would land at HRC Honda. The Honda team only saw limited success at the Dakar rally. The word was that HRC was going to open the check book for Depres to come on board, but that now appears to have been a premature idea. HRC Honda riders San Sunderland and Helder Rodriguez are on the entry list for Abu Dhabi.
For Abu Dhabi, Taddy Blazusiak will ride alongside his Polish countryman Jakub Przygonski. Chaleco Lopez will also be there. Perhaps the only surprise is that newcomer Kurt Caselli will not be riding the first rally of the season. But it is a busy part of the season at home for Kurt with two National Hare & Hound rounds in April, two more in May and the upcoming Baja 500 in June.
Things are not much more settled at Speedbrain Husqvarna. As Husky was purchased by KTM, the Speedbrain team announced its separation from former owners BMW. There is no word yet as to whether the team will continue to campaign the BMW/Husqvarna 449 platform in rally racing. But we do know that team leader Joan Barreda is entered in the Desert Challenge. There is some mystery as to what he will be riding. The official entry for Barreda lists motorcycle make as “Speedbrain 450 Rally”.
From Joan: “Hi guys! After these first post-Dakar weeks, it seems that everything begins to be clarified. As you know, this season won’t defend the colors of Husqvarna as in the last two years (only have words of gratitude for Husqvarna and BMW Group).
I will continue linked to a project that I love and that we have done to grow from the bottom, two years ago they gave me the opportunity to be part of this project, I believe that now is the time to fight more than ever to achieve the objective that we set ourselves in SPEEDBRAIN.
In Abu Dhabi, we reveal the major changes for what will be an advancement for the next Dakar.”
There has been little news out of the Yamaha camp. After their success at the Dakar, it would seem that the YZ450 rally bikes are perhaps the best prepared to challenge the dominance of KTM in the desert. There are no Yamaha riders entered into this upcoming race. In fact, the first 30 seeded riders are nearly all Honda or KTM riders.
KTM’S STARTS RALLY SEASON WITH DESERT CHALLENGE
From KTM – Factory rider and three times Dakar rally winner Marc Coma of Spain is in the United Arab Emirates to contest the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge and the Sealine Rally in Qatar, the events that open his racing season for 2013.
Coma was unable to compete in the 2013 edition of the Dakar Rally because he was not fully fit following corrective surgery for a shoulder injury, the result of a crash in the 2012 Morocco Rally in late October. But he is now ready to race and to tackle his favorite terrain, the sweeping sands of the desert, on the KTM 450 Rally bike. The Spanish rider, seeded number one, leads a top lineup of riders as he begins his defense of his World Rally Championship title. Coma is a proven rider in the Desert Challenge, which he has won six times, including the past four editions.
Speaking from the Emirates Coma said he is looking forward to racing after a long, enforced break. “We have tested in the desert of Tunisia but it has been a long break because of my injury and this is the right opportunity to see how fit I am, how quickly I can find my rhythm and get a good feeling for the bike. It will be difficult to win after such a long break but as always I will do my best.”
Racing with Coma in the Desert Challenge is his Polish factory teammateJakub Przygonski and KTM’s extreme Enduro factory rider Taddy Blazusiak, also of Poland, who contests a rally for the first time to stay in shape ahead of the highly competitive EnduroCross season. Other top KTM riders are Pal Anders Ullevalseter of Norway and Miran Stanovnik of Slovenia with Mohammed Al Balooshi flying the flag for the UAE seeded at number nine, just behind Blazusiak.
The 23rd edition of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge takes riders around 2000 km through the spectacular desert terrain of the Western Region of Al Garbia next week and starts with a super special stage on Yas Ialand, Abu Dhabi, on Saturday, April 6, followed by five days of competitive desert stages. The rally starts and finishes at the Yas Marina Circuit and again takes competitors into the famed Liwa Desert.
Sealine Cross Country Rally follows
Riders will barely have time to draw breath after the Desert Challenge before they decamp for Qatar and the second round of the FIM Cross Country Rally World Championship. The Sealine Cross-Country Rally was staged for the first time in 2012 and coma returns here as the defending champion.
For this rally the KTM factory riders are to be joined by Chilean Chaleco Lopez, while Blazusiak refocuses his attention on the coming EnduroCross season. Lopez, third on an all KTM podium at the conclusion of the Dakar 2013, together with KTM’s Cyril Despres and Ruben Faria is no stranger to sweeping desert sands. He will be just at home in this Gulf States desert as he is in the desert coastal plain of his home country.
This year organizers report that the Sealine Rally will be fought over four desert selective sections and will feature a longer route over a total of 1500 km but a shorter timetable from April 22-26. The first three legs will be around 400 km and the final leg for the bikes of 250 km and organizers report there will be plenty of new tracks, more offroad sections and more tricky navigation. There will be a ceremonial start on Monday evening and the first of the four desert legs starts on Tuesday morning. The rally concludes on Friday.
Coma, even though the desert sands seem to be his natural habitat, underlined that the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge and the Sealine Rally are ‘the toughest’ of the World Championship series. “Conditions here are tough for racing and the high temperatures also make it very difficult. It’s going to be a good test of my fitness”.
FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship 2013 Calendar
April 6-11: Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, United Arab Emirates
April 21-26: Sealine Cross Country Rally, Qatar
May 31 – June 5: Sardegna Cross Country Rally, Sardinia, Italy