KTM Talks About Pulling Out of Dakar

Jean Turner | June 23, 2009

A recent announcement from Amaury Sports Organisation (ASO), promoters of the Dakar Rally, stated that they will enforce a limit of 450cc for single-cylinder motorcycles effective in 2010. Following the announcement, KTM declared complete withdrawal from the race, slated to take place in South America in January of 2010. KTM Austria’s race team manager and rally coordinator Alex Doringer talked more about KTM’s decision to withdrawal from the Dakar Rally – a decision they felt was the only realistic option given the circumstances by Dakar Rally promoters – and what the manufacturer with such a heavy investment in rally racing plans to do next.

“I think it’s easy to explain after the decision [ASO] made to reduce the capacity on the engines down to 450,” Doringer said. “We don’t agree with the decision. The points they gave us as to why they made the decision; we don’t confirm them. They’re talking about safety, they’re talking about money for private riders and this isn’t true that it’s safe or cheaper.”

Realizing that it’s late notice for many, ASO has proposed an allowance for larger displacements in the 2010 Dakar Rally, such as KTM’s 690cc single-cylinder bike, provided they run a restrictor plate which limits top speed. KTM also feels that this option is unreasonable.

“For rally racing, a restrictor is not good because six months before, we don’t have the possibility to test so we don’t know how it will affect the tires, the engine, nothing,” Doringer said. “To race with a restrictor in a rally where you need power, it’s a stupid thing.”

KTM feels that the decision was particularly discourteous to them, considering the manufacturer’s total support of the ASO’s decision to cancel the Dakar in 2008.

“We supported them,” Doringer said. “We told our riders they are not allowed to go to Africa. [For ASO] to work out the things with us in this way is not fair and not friendly. I think that’s the logical answer KTM gave to them and as well to our customers. We told them and also to our customers that we are not going [to South America] with the race team and not with the support team at all.”

Race of Africa logoSo what does this mean for the most famous rally race in the world? Along with a number of other die-hards, KTM is still hell bent on keeping the tradition alive and going rally racing in Africa. Enter the “Race of Africa.”

Dakar Rally originator Jean Louis Schlesser and former ASO race director Hubert Auriol worked with Rene Metge and Jose Maria Servia in creating the Race of Africa which took place – much to the ASO’s chagrin – at the same time and in the same place last year as the Dakar Rally traditionally runs. With one successful year under their belt, Auriol and Schlesser are now in talks with KTM about bringing the factory teams back to Africa in 2010.

The official website (www.AfricaRace.com) has a video featuring Sporting Director, Rene Metge. The video opens with the Frenchman stating, “I am fed up with all this! I can’t wait to be in Africa…” and he goes on to name three reasons why.

“The first and most important reason: Africa is irreplaceable. And I know what I am talking about, having traveled and worked in all corners of the world. But Africa is such a different continent. The second reason is the price. It is much, much cheaper. The third, we are not far from Europe. And the total time between leaving and returning is about three weeks.”

In more information on the race website, Metge promises an original course starting in Barcelona and ending in Dakar, Senegal which will take place from December 27, 2009 to January 10, 2010. Of the second annual Race of Africa, Metge said, “It will not be easy, but those who decide to trust us will not regret it.”

KTM is admittedly a little more than enticed by the opportunity to return to traditional rally racing in Africa.

“We put one and one together and we agree with them that it’s a good idea to go back to Africa,” Doringer said. “Not saying that South America was a bad experience… I think it was a good experience and a great success, but at the moment, it’s a good idea to work out something with [the Race of Africa], and possibility that KTM is coming and that maybe we bring customers with us, as we will also bring the service team. It’s not confirmed and we’re still working on a plan, but it looks pretty good and I think it could be a good adventure and I know most of the customers will for sure follow us.”

While KTM is in meetings with the Race of Africa promoters, they are also in meetings with the ASO to try to reach a middle ground. But Doringer did not seem optimistic about the talks thus far with the Dakar promoters.

“I went on Tuesday to Geneva for a meeting with the FIM and of course, this was a big point of discussion,” Doringer said. “There was someone from ASO as well. The idea behind this that they will open it for different manufacturers and for different smaller teams, but to be honest, I know, and I think everybody knows, that there will not be more companies coming to race Dakar because it’s not a cheap race. Nobody has an enduro bike which is ready for rally and they don’t have a rally bike which they can put a restrictor so I don’t think the big companies will come. Maybe smaller teams will come, small teams with their own sponsors. And this is the idea that they have.

“They also think this will change the competition; they think it’s more open for other riders. They think they can maybe be faster with a smaller bike, or with our top guys on a reduced capacity engine, but I don’t believe that. Marc [Coma] and Cyril [Despres] are the biggest talents on rally bikes and even if they go with the 450 – which we will not do – they’ll still be the guys to fight against.”

Details and entries for the Race of Africa are currently available on the official website, www.AfricaRace.com.

Jean Turner | Contributor

A former staffer at Cycle News, Turner continues to contribute to the website and magazine as a columnist and someone we can count on to whip up a few thousand words on an off-road race when needed.