I think the Dakar has always pushed the boundaries of the motorcycle industry, and today I’m going to talk about why I think 2024 could be a hugely important race for the whole industry, and possibly the closest Dakar in many years.
The race has been dominated by the KTM group in recent years, but it is seeing a whole raft of less established manufacturers force their way into the limelight.
This year is set to see some upsets I think.
Kove Moto has joined forces with Mason Klein, and probably the biggest news is Juan Barreda’s defection from Honda to Hero Motorcycles, who have pumped more money in than ever. They now have a team of very experienced riders to try and take them to the very top.
The entry list is a long one and I will include the whole list in the article on the website linked below in the description, but I will try and simplify it as best I can.
For those of you that don’t know, the bikes are split into 3 classes. The Rally GP category for the top level riders, The Rally 2 class that is for riders with a support team and the Original or Malle Moto class for unsupported private entries.
Obviously it is the Rally GP class that will get most attention, but the real battles may well come in the Rally 2 class. The Originals or Malle Moto class is for private unsupported riders who do the rally in the original format, alone with the bike with little help but each other for the whole rally.
In the Rally GP class we have 23 entries and they are split as follows.
KTM have 5 bikes but the KTM Group also have 2 GasGas bikes and 1 Husqvarna entry, so 8 bikes in total. It would have been 10 if it hadn’t been for the unfortunate accident to Matthias Walkner who will now have to sit out this years race and Skyler Howes last minute, unexpected move to Honda.
Honda had thrown in 6 entries this year but with Barreda’s move to Hero the team was thrown into disruption. The last minute switch of Skyler Howes to Honda from Husqvarna throws another spanner into the mix.
Sherco have 2 entries, Hero have 4, and there is just Antonio Maio on a single Yamaha WR450 Rally.
Then, as I said, there is Mason Klein as the sole Kove entry in the Rally GP category.
Kove Moto and Mason Klein
This last bike is one I am particularly interested in. Last year Kove took 3 rookie riders and a brand new team to the Dakar, and managed to get all 3 riders to the finish. The 450 Rally has already made an impact on the retail market, but the bike Mason Klein will be riding is an all new 450 Rally EX model that is shall we say a little experimental.
It was reported that the main Kove team would be using the 2023 bike with a few updates in the Rally 2 category, but It has also been hinted that there will be the new EX Rally 450 model on the line. However, Mason Klein has worked closely with the factory to produce a new bike with an engine that sounds like it is tuned to the limit.
This is a family run team and not a full factory ride, but sometimes the personal touch of a family team can make the difference needed, and they do have factory support with parts supply and technical help. Working from the back of a shipping container, Mason Klein has the potential to pull off a real Cinderella story for both Kove and himself.
Pushing The Development
The factory are using this as a way to push forward the development of the 450 Rally and the results could be very interesting.
I have heard power figures of over 75HP talked about and if that is right this will be a much more competitive, but highly strung engine. They do seem to have taken a risk by pushing the engine so far, but we will see if the bike can prove to be a real disrupter.
The young Mason Klein started his Dakar Journey with an incredible top ten finish in his rookie year, and a stage win before his problems in 2023. He seems to be that rare combination of rider and mechanic that shines in the Dakar like nowhere else. His move from KTM to Kove will surprise many, especially as it is now effectively a privateer team entry, but I would be a fool to discount his chances of causing an upset.
Hero have taken a very different approach and after several years of development, have hired a team that has experience in depth and a history of success. Sebastian Bühler, Joaquim Rodrigues, Ross Branch and Juan Barreda team up alongside each other in what can only be described as an all star line up.
What this tells me, is that Hero have spent a lot of money trying to solidify their place in the Dakar and it makes me wonder if this is a precursor to the company finally breaking out of India into the western markets with their range of road bikes.
Sebastian Bühler from the Hero team said “After the last Dakar we were able to do the whole Rally Raid Championship where I tested a lot of new stuff on the bike. Racing is always the best way to test, but that’s not always great as far as results are concerned. For me the important thing is that the bike is getting better all the time. The team has been working really hard and we now have a bike that is capable of winning. If I hadn’t lost so much time last year with the fuel problem I’d have finished in 8th place and so that’s what I’ll be aiming for in 2024. A Top 10 finish.”
How Well Can They Do?
That may be so for Bühler , but I know Barreda and Branch won’t just be settling for a top ten finish.
Every rider on the team has stage wins under their belt, and the experience of Barreda in particular should help the team on to great things. This was a shock last minute move and gives the Hero Team a true Dakar legend with years of experience to call on. It also marks a reunion with Team manager Wolfgang Fischer who nurtured Barreda’s talent in the early days of the Rally Raid Championship.
I for one, would never bet against such a giant as Juan Barreda. He is another rider more than capable of causing a real upset.
Sherco and More
Sherco have Lorenzo Santolino heading the team, and he has top ten finishes for the last 3 years, he has Rui Gonçalves as the 2nd team member and the Sherco is fast, and more than capable of finishing near the top.
KTM Group and Honda are sure to have plenty of stage wins too, with a roster of riders who all have the ability to win the whole Dakar.
There is bound to be internal rivalry in the KTM group too, with Luciano Benavides heading the Husqvarna challenge, Toby Price on the top KTM and Sam Sunderland inevitably pushing the GasGas to its absolute limits.
Antonio Maio, as the sole Yamaha entry has the support of Yamaha Portugal as well as Drag’on from France so may have more chance of finishing now, but is unlikely to be at the top to be honest.
We should be in for a whole host of interesting battles in the dunes in the premier class. Sunderland, Price, the the Benavides brothers and Pablo Quintenilla are the obvious favourites, but I think Mason Klein and Juan Barreda are the real wild cards, and could throw this Dakar wide open.
In the Rally 2 category we have KTM, Husqvarna, and GasGas dominating the field again. However, This is where the Kove Factory team is concentrating their efforts.
The Kove factory team has been built around the success of last year, and alongside Sunier, who was the top rider last year we have Neels Theric, Xavier Flick, and a new Chinese rookie called Fang Xiangling to complete the rider line up.
They also have Cesare Zacchetti from Kove Italy team in the Malle Moto or “Original” category, Where man and machine are alone versus the world.
That gives us 6 Kove entries in the 3 classes and the real possibility of a top ten finish.
Rookie Jeremy Miroir and the more experienced Tommaso Montanari line up beside Jane Daniels as the 3 Fantic riders who will compete in the Rally 2 category. After a terrible Rally last year they will be trying to rewrite the Fantic story. They could pull off decent results, although I think they are unlikely to feature at the top.
Who Will Win?
I am not going to even think of making any predictions, but I will be watching to see what happens.
After last years win Kevin Benavides will be looking to win for a 3rd time, and Toby Price and Sam Sunderland will both be fighting tooth and nail for the win. As will Pablo Quintanilla and Skyler Howes on their Honda factory rides.
Luciano Benevides carries the number one plate as the World Rally Raid Champion, so the podium could end up being a family celebration if the two brothers both get that bit of luck that always. plays a part in the Dakar.
There are so many potential winners, this could be the closest Dakar for years, and I apologise to any of the riders I haven’t mentioned, They are all heroes. At least ten of the top riders are more than capable of finishing on the top step of the podium, and as usual, it will be the best team effort that finally gets the win.
The complete motorcycle entry list is in the full article on the website.
Race start is on the 5th of January and the finish is on the 19th, so keep your eyes open, Let me know in the comments if you want some short news updates during the event or just a summary of the whole rally at the end.
This could be the year that both China and India start to solidify their places in the sport, and the industry in general.
How many top ten finishes do you think they can achieve? Or is it possible Hero or Kove can actually win?
What do you think?
Who are your favourites?
Let me know in the comments below.
Thanks for watching, Here’s to a great 2024 for everyone.
Remember, keep your spanners close and your keys even closer.
Ride Free everyone.