Yamaha's Helder Rodrigues wins 450 class in Dakar
For the third time since the conception of the new technical regulations of the Dakar the Yamaha WR450F has been victorious in the hotly contested 450cc motorcycle class. David Fretigne won the class in 2004 and 2005 and Helder Rodrigues came close in 2006 when he finished ninth overall as best Yamaha rider. This year Rodrigues managed to clinch the 450 class title. The Portuguese Enduro star finished two and half hours behind race winner Cyril Despres (KTM >450cc) to match Fretigne's best performance in 2005 with a fifth position overall. Quad rider Josef Machanek caused more reason for celebrations in the Yamaha camp with his overall victory in the Quad category. The Czech proved the speed and endurance of his Banshee YFZ350 by leading only five fellow competitors from 13 starters over the finish line.
Helder Rodrigues' fifth position overall places him as second best privateer rider behind Norwegian Pal Anders Ullevalseter (KTM), who finished fourth overall, but on a bigger capacity bike. Besides consistency, Helder showed some fearsome speed on the more technical stages. He finished second in the sandy opening leg, won the second and tenth stage and finished third in the 16 km beach special on the last day. On the stages where top speed was less advantageous, Rodrigues always made sure to claw back time on the bigger bikes.
The accumulated experience of his previous two Dakar participations helped Rodrigues to celebrate his first African stage win this year; "The stage of day 10 was very technical, which allowed me to battle with bikes from the bigger categories. With my 450, I lost out somewhat on the straight sections, but I was able to make up for this on the technical parts. I've had a good day and this victory is very important for the team, and me as well, because it's the first time that I've won a special stage in Africa. Previously, my best was a third place last year".
Rodrigues continued by confirming he exceeded his own expectations, and vows to be back next year even stronger; "My aim was to be in the top five and to win one stage. I am fifth in the overall rankings and I won two stages. So I am more then happy. We all worked well together. The team was better and so was the Yamaha. I was unable to give priority to preparing the Dakar because of my endurance race commitments. But next year, I'll change priorities and dedicate more time to preparing for the Dakar".
Besides the winning success of Rodrigues there have been other great achievements of WR450F riders. The Frenchman Michel Marchini finished seventh overall and second in the 450 class, while Dutchwomen Mirjam Pol again managed to finish as runner-up female. She has left 84 males in her wake and 49th overall is a significant improvement over her 80th place last year. Although it is not an official category victory, Mirjam is in fact the fastest woman on a 450, as her French opponent Ludivine Puy (KTM) finished in front of her on a bigger capacity machine.
The formidable result for the 23-year-old sports teacher did not come easy and she has had some ups and downs since leaving Lisbon; "At the end of the marathon stage in Foum Zguid, I started running a fever and it got worse the next day. Then during the stage to Zouerat I landed badly after a jump and twisted my right ankle. I did not think much of it in the beginning, but the pain kept me awake allnight." With her ankle tightly strapped, the strong Dutchwoman kept on going. "I don't care so much about my ranking or about the other women in the race. Ludivine Puy was better than me this year", she admits looking at the rankings. During the stage to Atar, Mirjam deserved a fair-play award when she stopped to give another top female competitor Swedish Annie Seel some fuel.
Most of the seasoned contestants judged the 2007 Dakar to be a little bit easier then previous editions.
Over half of the 245 motorcyclist, 132 to be precise, made it to the finish, a percentage that is slightly higher then past events. Helder Rodrigues led the 29 fellow WR450F riders over the finish line on the beach at Dakar.
-credit: yamaha racing