Believe it or not, KTM has won the Dakar Rally every year since 2001 when Italian Fabrizio Meoni won the race on the Austrian company's LC4 660R. Keeping that win streak in 2013 alive falls at the feet of Frenchman Cyril Despres, the KTM factory rider ready to defend his title when the race gets started on January 5 in Lima, Peru.
If Despres or another KTM rider gets the job done, it will be 12 straight wins in the world's most famous rally for the brand. Despres will also be gunning for his fifth career win in the race.
Prior to Christmas, it looked like Despres would be racing with teammate Marc Coma, the pair having won the Dakar in alternating years since 2005. But Coma was forced to withdraw from the race with the shoulder injury suffered in the Rally of Morocco taking longer to heal than expected.
Even though Coma was working with physiotherapists and his doctors right up to the last minute, he still has some lack of movement in his shoulder and didn't have the level of fitness needed for such a grueling event.
Last year, Despres and Coma were only minutes apart in actual riding times after 15 days and almost 5000 miles of the world's most challenging terrain.
While it will now be up to Despres to again challenge for the title, American race fans were pleased to find out that Kurt Caselli had been named to ride Coma's 450 Rally bike in this year's race. KTM had registered a reserve rider with the organizers in case one of the factory team was unable to compete and Caselli has welcomed the opportunity to step in. Winner of multiple AMA off-road titles and the current AMA Hare & Hounds Champion, Caselli says it was always a career goal to compete in the Dakar.
"To be able to race the greatest off-road race in the world aboard the best bike in the world is truly a blessing," he said. "This is not only a milestone in my career but also in my life."
Meanwhile team manager Alex Doringer has underlined that Caselli will be riding in his first Dakar for experience and adventure and there is no pressure on him to achieve a top position.
Despres is quick to point out that it is the race itself that is his biggest rival.
"I am always cautious," he says. "I always say that my biggest rival on the Dakar isn't the other competitors but the desert itself. That is the thing on the Dakar that no one can master!"
The French rider, considered at the peak of his career, goes into the 2013 edition after victories in 2012 in the Desafio Littoral and the Morocco Rally.
Also riding in KTM colors once again and on the KTM 450 Rally factory bike will be the two regular support riders or "water carriers," Ruben Faria of Portugal and Juan Pedrero of Spain. This year KTM is also fielding a Factory "B" Team made up of South African duo Darryl Curtis and Riaan van Niekerk, who are joined by Poland's rising star rally personality Jakub ‘Kuba' Przygonski.
For the first time, the South American Dakar will take a north-south perspective over the 14 stages, starting in Lima, Peru and traveling south to finish in Santiago, Chile, while taking in four stages in Argentina on the way. Riders set out on January 5 and finish on January 19 with one rest day scheduled for January 13.
They will first tackle the coastal desert of southern Peru and according to organizers will be under constant pressure for the eight stages up until the rest day. Stage nine will be the longest of 2013, some 530 miles.