Small constructors with big ambitions
The switchover to 450cc has brought a number of brands back into the race. In total, at the start of the Dakar, there were 13 of them and some, new to the event, are holding their own against the bigger teams. Here, we meet 3 of them.
It is not easy to secure a place in the bike world for a Chinese constructor. Yet, sometimes, retrospectively, fate gives a helping hand. The Jincheng brand was founded in 1979 and the links with the Dakar have become only too natural, but only just several years ago. Gerard Anthony, an experienced mechanic from Auxerre in France remembers it well: "I was on the Heroes Legend race and someone came up to me and said, 'I have clients who are interested in taking part in the Dakar'. Since then, I've been preparing their bikes". The result is fairly satisfactory, especially since the switchover to 450cc, with three bikes enrolled this year, and 2 still in the race at the end of the 11th stage. Su Wenmin finished 32nd in 2010 for his first participation, and Pablo Pascual, an Argentinean, was in 68th place in the general standings yesterday in San Juan. For Sui Quanwu, the team manager, the current Dakar provides the opportunity of making sales in two countries where the brand's assembly line factories are located. "Pablo Pascual gives us links with the local crowds," he explains. With three bikes enlisted this year, Jingheng is on the up for its 4th Dakar after having started with a single vehicle in 2007.If the regulations concerning the 450cc open horizons to plenty of marks that were previously smothered by the major players, then Sherco, the French constructor, is probably the most illustrative example. Boosted by David Casteu's stage victory last year, Sherco enjoyed a boom in sales following the Dakar. However, the flipside of the coin can quickly become apparent in rally raids. "The brand soon realised that rally raids had a lot of impact: a positive impact last year, but a negative one this year, because I've broken down a lot. The problem for brands like this is that they haven't yet integrated the rally raid culture, whether it's their approach, in development or in production. But it's part of a process. I've got a 3-year contract with Sherco, so I have 2 more Dakars with them. We need to have the ambition of working more to develop the equipment, but there is a place for all these brands. In spite of the problems I've experienced on this edition, I've still managed to finish 3rd twice".Another choice for most of these brands is whether or not to switch to a more industrial mode. The example of Rieju shows just how this movement can start. Filipo Ciotti, riding the sole Rieju machine, explains this new scenario: "Rieju wanted to be on the Dakar. They chose me as rider because it was the only machine they were putting into the race. I received it late, in November, but its potential is interesting". The Italian rider was 61st in the general standings at San Juan and is continuing on his merry way not a long distance now from Buenos Aires. The route has been less kind to the Beta brand: neither of its two official bikes that started the rally, ridden by Guido Napoli and Ivan Boano, is in a state to be at the finishing line in Buenos Aires.