Great thread, and great contributions to all as usual!
Not much to add from a technological perspective (Scott, great news that they'll be testing on your stuff!), but a few things to add from an armchair quarterbacking one.
1) Leading is an entirely different game than being second. I opened some of the Amitie last year, and while it's not a race, the experience of being first tracks across sections adds a huge element of intensity to the experience.
It would be an interesting exercise to see who, of the current pilots, have won two days in a row, my suspicion is that the list is very, very short (marc and cyril).
Winning the first day can be done with strategy and pace. Winning the second requires navigation, no ifs ands or buts.
Discussion in the bivouac this year was that the winning pace is not as fast as a winning H&H pace in the US... but navigation adds an entirely new angle. Personally, I'm not sure there's anyone who is qualified to open the track at the front, that isn't contracted to Orange. This is not meant as any slight to Helder, whom I hold in the highest regard... but I think he will face a significant challenge to hold onto a lead from the front as he will need to to win.
2) I also believe that there are significant logistical concerns that represent a barrier for HRC.
As one example, KTM arrives at the race with beautiful printed/ bound booklets detailing each stages logistics, timing, maps, fuel load at each refuel, etc. Mohammed Balooshi had one that I got to study for a bit- there was a serious piece of work, mostly irrelevant to someone like me, but important to someone who wants to win.
Helder definitely gets the "doing the most with the least" award for the last few years. The question is whether he can do "the most with a level playing field". It's a different question.
3) To the question of what's in it for Honda, there are a few million spectators, many of whom will buy a bike in the next few years. Red at the front will be a commercial success, I believe.