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No Big Twins for Dakar Rally In ’05

Dakar rally sanctioning body ASO (which incidentally also organizes the Tour de France and many other bicycle events in Europe) has released the rules for the ’05 Dakar rally, and the motorcycle section contains something of a shocker. Open-class twin-cylinder motorcycles (like the 950cc KTM V-Twins) are banned for 2005. In fact, the rules disallow any twin-cylinder motorcycle displacing over 450cc. The premier motorcycle classes will now consist of the Open class singles (like the KTM 660) and the new 450cc single class.

This surprising decision could mean a lot for the future of Dakar. Obviously the organizers felt that the Open class was becoming a “one-make” race, as no manufacturer seemed inclined to step up with a bike that could seriously challenge KTM. If you read yesterday’s article, you will see that KTM is attempting to draw American attention to the Dakar by training and supporting a “Team USA”-type effort in 2005. By aligning their racing classes more closely with those of American off-road racing, perhaps the ASO can attract more attention from American off-road racing superstars. And if the American stars come, the major Japanese manufacturers come with them.

So could the decision to re-emphasize the 450cc class start a boom in participation in the Dakar’s motorcycle classes? All the Japanese manufacturers should have 450cc four-stroke MX bikes available by next year, and Honda also has the XR650 (already the most dominant bike in American desert racing in the hands of Johnny Cambell and Steve Hengeveld), which could perhaps challenge KTM’s 660 in the Open class. Whether the Big Four will bite remains to be seen, but this seems like a smart move by the ASO.