Frétigné wins class and the hearts of the public
Jean-Claude Oliver acknowledges his rider
The 2004 Dakar rally came to a close today, and it was mission accomplished as far as David Frétigné and his Yamaha Motor France team were concerned.
The Frenchman was the revelation of the event, winning the 450 class on his two-wheel-drive Yamaha WR450F 2-Trac and stunning riders of the more powerful 660 and 950cc machines by winning three stages outright and finishing seventh in the overall standings -- an amazing achievement for a Dakar rookie on a 450cc machine.
The 18-day, 11,052 km event also provided the toughest test yet for the 2-Trac system. Yamaha entered just one machine for the event but it performed flawlessly, proving its resilience and giving the engineers plenty of vital feedback to help develop the system.
Today saw the last 27km special around the beach at Lac Rose. There were no changes at the top of the leaderboard, with Nani Roma (KTM660) finally winning the race after nine attempts, over 12 minutes ahead of Richard Sainct (KTM660) and Cyril Despres (KTM660). Frétigné was lucky to survive a huge crash during the special to finish the stage sixth (at 1'16) and consolidate his extremely impressive seventh overall (at 3h26'54). On his first ever Dakar the Frenchman took the 450 class victory ahead Matteo Graziani (11th at 6h06'47).
Congratulations to Yamaha Motor France on a great performance "I nearly had a disaster today," confirmed Frétigné, who fulfilled his childhood ambition by entering the event. "I was flat out on the hard sand at the side of the piste when I hit a root. I tried to lift the front wheel but I was too late and fell hard. I heard the noise of a helicopter overhead and someone was shouting at me, 'David, get back on the bike'. I hope that what we have started here doesn't come to a premature end. I have learnt a lot, gained confidence in the reliability of the engine and was able to increase the pace as the race went on. I also enjoyed myself enormously aboard my 'little' bike. Now I would like to be able to fight for the overall victory. Yamaha has traditionally been a fan of rally-raid, Jean-Claude Olivier (President of Yamaha Motor France) is very motivated and after my result this year I am too."
There was more good news for Yamaha as Dakar legend Stéphane Peterhansel won the car event in his Mitsubishi. The Frenchman is the most decorated Dakar rider ever after winning the bike event six-times on Yamaha Motor France machines during the Nineties, with his win in the 2004 event representing his first victory since switching to four wheels. He too found time to congratulate Frétigné, adding: "David couldn't have done a better job. He rode a great race and made very few mistakes. He has learnt quickly and rode well."
Frétigné's success was vindication of Olivier's decision to enter his protégé in a one-rider team. As runner-up in the 1985 event (and still a regular competitor in other desert raids) he knows what it takes to complete this most gruelling of two-wheeled events.
"Traditionally we have taken young riders and trained them up," he said. "But with David we have done the same with a man of 33 years old. He has the advantage of combining the enthusiasm of a kid half his age with great maturity.
"Now there are two possibilities open to us -- either the rules are changed to favour 450s, in which case we have a head start on the others, or we come back with a purpose built 660. If it is the latter, we will need to have Yamaha 100 percent behind us."
For further information on the Dakar rally and Yamaha's 2-Trac system, please visit www.yamaha-racing.com where you will find technical information, as well as copyright-free photography, David Frétigné's biography and archive reports from this year's event.