Mar Del Plata, Argentina, January 1 2012: New Year’s Day 2012 and KTM’s Dakar riders opened their bid for the eleventh consecutive Dakar Rally victory for the Austrian sports motorcycle specialists.
Starting their engines under picture book summer skies on Argentina’s eastern coast riders absolved a 57 km special just after the start followed by another 763 km hard ride liaison to Santa Rosa de la Pampa.
While the timed stage, supported by thousands of Argentinean fans was more festive than challenging, riders were very much aware that this was a mere crumb in the torturous journey that takes them for the first time from the coast of the Atlantic to the coast of the Pacific to finish in the Peruvian capital Lima after nearly 9000 km.
Dakar title-holder and KTM factory rider Marc Coma was in the best of form, finishing the special in second place just 14 seconds behind Chaleco Lopez of Chile. Cyril Despres, mainstay of the KTM Factory Team and like Coma, a three-times Dakar winner, took it easy in the warm-up and was 1:48 behind the leader in 13th place ahead of the long liaison into the interior of the country.
Coma and Despres in good spirits
Clearly in a confident spirit, Coma said after the brief dash of the timed special: “The first special was breathtaking: next to the seaside and with beautiful little dunes. It really was a fantastic warm-up. But we still have a long day ahead of us, with a lengthy liaison.” Despres was also happy to be back on the bike and communing with his road book. “I took this special quite cautiously because there were a lot of potholes, fesh-fesh, dust… and spectators, so I kept it cool at the beginning!”
The ‘Water Carriers’
The so-called ‘water carriers’, the riders whose job it is to support the two key factory riders also had a solid start. KTM’s Rubin Faria of Portugal, the support rider for Cyril Despres had a good opening session finishing 1:18 behind the leader in eighth place while Joan Pedrero, Marc Coma’s support rider was 2:24 behind in 18th place.
The KTM newcomers
KTM Enduro factory rider Johnny Aubert of France is making his first Dakar appearance riding the KTM 450 Rally bike and supported by the KTM Customer Service. With a mission to ‘learn and enjoy the Dakar experience’, Johnny finished 20th just 2:29 behind the leader. Felipe Zanol of Brazil, who finished a close second to Cyril Despres in this year’s Dos Sertoes Rally in Brazil was 26th and trails the leader by 3:15 minutes. New Zealander Chris Birch, who races in Extreme events for KTM, such as the Red Bull Romaniacs and the notorious Red Bull Hare Scramble at Erzberg, Austria is also tackling his first Dakar and was 5:51 behind the leader in 39th place. Moh Balooshi, KTM’s UAE rider and the first Arab to contest the bike category, ended the day trailing by 16 minutes 20 seconds and must now settle down to some steady riding to make up the deficit.
Serious racing begins tomorrow
With less than three minutes separating the first 20 riders it is clear that they get down to serious business in Stage Two. They leave Santa Rosa to tackle 300 km of timed special that starts on firm terrain and ends in dangerously tricky soft sand. As they get closer to their destination at San Rafael they will encounter the grey volcanic sand that slows down their bikes and requires absolute concentration and physical effort from the riders.
Stage One Results: Mar Del Plata to Santa Rosa de la Pampa: 57 km Special; 763 Liaison
1, Chaleco Lopez, Chile, Aprilia, 32 minutes 37 seconds
2, Marc Coma, Spain, KTM at 14 seconds
3, Javier Pizzolito, Argentina, Honda, at 27 seconds
4, Quinn Cody, USA, Honda, at 30 seconds
5, Jakub Przygonski, Poland, KTM, at 49 seconds
8, Rubin Faria, Portugal, KTM, at 1:18
11, Pal Anders Ullevalseter, Norway, KTM, 1:41
13, Cyril Despres, France, KTM 1:48
18, Joan Pedrero, Spain, KTM 2:24
19, Jordi Villadoms, Spain, KTM 2:25
20, Johnny Aubert, France, KTM 2:29
21, Alessandro Botturi, Italy, KTM 3:03
26, Felipe Zanol, Brazil, KTM 3:15
39, Chris Birch, New Zealand, KTM 5:51
130, Moh Balooshi, UAE, KTM 16:20