Rally PanAm's 2008 Dakar Rally plans: Payback in Africa
What's up for the Dakar Rally in 2008?
The Dakar Rally is the most challenging motorsports event anywhere; a desert race across the toughest terrain in the world. Racers must be fast, fit, smart and lucky to navigate the 6,000 mile unmarked route over the course of 16 days. No American has ever won the event. The "Dakar" starts on January 5, 2008 in Lisbon, Portugal and ends in Dakar, Senegal more than two weeks later.
Rally PanAm, backed by Top Oil, Klim and Scuderia West, intends to take lead rider Jonah Street to the top of the podium in Dakar.
Last year, Jonah was poised to win this event. Rally PanAm built custom 540cc rally bikes to compete against the factory KTM 690cc bikes. The Dakar had recently implemented a 100mph speed limit, so the team's smaller bikes had a competitive advantage.
Two days before the start of the event in January 2007, under pressure from the FIM and manufacturers, the Dakar Rally organizers decided not to enforce the 100mph speed limit. Rally PanAm was left with a great handling bike that was 15mph down on top speed compared to the factory bikes. Team manager Charlie Rauseo says, "When we were informed of the rule change, we knew then that we were not going to win the 07 Dakar." Jonah rode hard anyway. He was 3rd overall well into the fast African stages. He would reel the factory guys in whenever it got bumpy or twisty, but they would gain ground in the straight sections. The bike's engine gave up soon after that.
Determined not to be burned again, the team has acquired a new 690 Rally bike. Charlie Rauseo says, "We're looking forward to rubbing their noses in it."
5 riders are headed to Lisbon from this side of the pond.
From the United States, there are 3 riders: John Deykes from Southern California on his home-built and very tricky Aprilia 450 rally bike; Rally PanAm's Jonah Street on the new KTM 690 Rally, and Charlie Rauseo on a custom KTM 552 rally bike. From Canada, there's Don Hatton from British Columbia and Tod Davidson from Toronto on Rally PanAm prepared KTM 525s. Also keep an eye on Australia's top rider David Schwartz on another KTM 690. David will be supported by Rally PanAm trucks and mechanics. Chris Blais, who finished 3rd last year on a factory KTM was injured earlier this year and will not compete in Africa.
We're expecting a very difficult rally this year. This is the 30th Edition of the Dakar, and rumor has it that the French have some surprises up their sleeves. Last year was a particularly easy rally, so they are out to beat the competitors up this year. The riders will spend more time in Mauritania and no time in Mali. That means more sand and more dunes! They say that several stages will have different routes for bikes and cars/trucks, which means that those bike routes will be tight and technical. Also, the bikers will be camping alone one or two nights this year, with no help from the cars, trucks or the assistance crews.
Every one of these racers, along with spouses, friends and crew, has spent an entire year preparing for the Dakar. Sure, it is expensive, but it is also very complicated logistically. And, they've all had to learn a completely new type of racing. Every one of these guys is a hero just for getting to the start. Each of them is going to have to dig deep and find a way to the finish.
The Dakar Rally will be televised by Versus Network (formerly OLN) again this year starting January 6 and continuing through January 21.