Dakar 2021 – Will It Be a Honda vs KTM Battle?

Adrien Van Beveren Adrien – Yamaha, Yamalube Yamaha Official Rally Team, Moto, Bike, action during Stage 2 of the Dakar 2020 between Al Wajh and Neom, 401 km – SS 367km, in Saudi Arabia, on January 6, 2020 – Photo Florent Gooden / DPPI

Here we go again. Time to ride, time to race, time to endure… Starting on January 3, 2021, the 43rd edition of the Dakar rally will again provide a spectacle for motorcycle fans around the world.

Our friend Ricky Brabec (Honda) will line up this time a defending champion instead of simply another leading contender, so the heat is definitely on Mr. Brabec to deliver Honda another gift. Question is: Can Ricky do it again?  In our exclusive interview he certainly seemed primed and ready to do it again!

KTM Wants It Back

KTM wants none of it. Brabec broke their amazing 18 victory streak, so the Austrians will be out for revenge – counting on three former winners – Tony Price, Sam Sutherland and Mathias Walkner – with the sole aim of retaking their crown from Honda. However, the Saudi duel will most likely not be limited to a KTM vs Honda battle this year. Yamaha’s Adrian Van Beveren or Husqvarna’s Pablo Quintanilla, both boast the ability to spoil the Honda vs KTM party.

One can’t count out the youngsters either… The likes of Ross Branch, Skyler Howes and Jamie McCanney have all demonstrated they have what it takes to win. Then there are rookies or wildcards like Daniel Sanders and Tosha Schareina who will want to make an impression too.

Other Contenders

A few others that could spoil the party include  Kevin Benavides ( 4th in 2016)  if he rides a flawless race. He managed to do this on the Rally of Andalusia, dominating his rivals on a less demanding racing format than the Dakar. His team-mate Ignacio Cornejo (4th on the Dakar in 2020), will also be hungry for victory, as will Spanish rider Joan Barreda who is still, after a long time, seeking a place on the podium.

While Honda can point to the boast of having been the first constructor to rock the KTM boat, Yamaha’s ambitions are just as legitimate, despite a 2020 edition marred by the premature exits of its two leaders. Adrien Van Beveren, whose taste of Saudi Arabia’s sands did not even exceed three days in January, has been whetting his appetite on the recent Bajas de Ha’il, where he won ahead of competitors that were less imposing than on the Dakar but sufficient to get him up to the right pace.

In the Yamaha camp, he will be accompanied by the newcomer to the team  American rider Andrew Short (6th in 2019) as well as by Franco Caimi (8th in 2020), while his former accomplice Xavier de Soultrait will be donning the colours of Husqvarna to join Pablo Quintanilla, the runner-up to Brabec in January, and a biker who also seems perfectly set to triumph after finishing in the top five in four of his last eight races.

The competition in this elite bunch of riders will be even tougher given that a new generation is starting to break through, with Luciano Benavides (6th in 2020), Ross Branch, Skyler Howes or also Jamie McCanney, all of whom finished in the Top 15 in the last Dakar.

Rookies To Watch

Finally, the youngest rider in the category also deserves a mention: Konrad Dabrowski, who is the direct heir to Marek, one of the pioneers of the Polish rally-raid school in Africa (with a 9th place finish in 2003 in particular).

Looking to the future, a watchful eye will also have to be cast over a handful of especially promising rookies who have caught the attention of the main constructors by shining in similar disciplines before making their debut this year on the Dakar. Such is the case for Australia’s Daniel Sanders, who aims to follow in the tracks of Toby Price for KTM, but also Portugal’s Rui Gonçalves enrolled by Sherco and Spaniard Tosha Schareina.

Its time to race.

53 Maio Antonio (prt), Yamaha, Yamaha Fino Motor Racing, Moto, Bike, action during Stage 2 of the Dakar 2020 between Al Wajh and Neom, 401 km – SS 367km, in Saudi Arabia, on January 6, 2020 – Photo Frederic Le Floc’h / DPPI