We've never met, but I suspect that too old
is a realist... possibly a fellow graduate of the School of Hard Knocks; Class of "seen/heard this all before".
The report card:
has the two best/most expereienced riders (and a second wave of talented/capable b-teamers and privateers). KTM has the most developed and proven bikes, the most long term established/experienced R&D and logistics team behind them (the factory effort has WON the race 11 straight years) and long term financial partners/sponsors providing the backing. Full stop.
has one top echelon rider (and a support cast of three considerably credentialled riders) with which to take the fight to the competition. At present, it is my understanding that only the four team riders (possibly only three if the #1 rider decides to exercise his orange option contract clause). The (TM based) bikes (for 2012) are as yet not finished/race tested and the teams principle rider even has an option to use the existing KTM platform bike, if he feels more confident going down that path.
(unlike KTM) Unfortunately this team of engineers (however brilliant they may be) does not
have the same level of years of prior model/experience to draw from... So when producing an ALL NEW rally bike to take on the DAKAR, unfortunately (in my estimate) they don't bring the same kind of "weight" to the betting table - as say KTM would.*
*KTM have come to DAKAR in the past and won on debut with an all new rally bike, on THREE different occassions; LC8 950 Rallye, 690 RR and 450 RR... they have points on the scoreboard - they're anything but rookies.
team structure and logistics for 2012 were (by all accounts) pretty spartan in comparison to what the dominating team brings to the fight, and although reports/indications for 2013 point towards an escalation in the arms race; it also raises the interesting final point - who is fronting the dollars?
Aside from Chaleco (who has his own portfolio of long term sponsors with him) the other BF bikes/team riders in the past have shown little in the way of corporate support (other than the usual contributing suppliers etc.). The team B-F logo has been prominent, but it seems that to date that the obligatory "corporate cash cow" big naming rights sponsor logo is what has been absent... Do they have a new "partner" for 2013... or is it all self (B-F) funded?
For sure the PR and media release hype around the new B-F bike has been world class... That's the kind of marketing and media presence that is required to attract a naming rights sponsor for sure, but to keep one requires wins on the result sheets and media coverage.
where a lot of these deals in the past (upcoming teams who want to knock KTM off the perch) have fallen short of the mark. We've all heard of these "three year plans"
a.k.a. "We plan to compete at DAKAR for the next (we presently have funding for only this coming edition and hopefully - if the bike works well, we get results and can entice other sponsors to join us, we can continue in years two and...) three years."
I will cite two examples; both SHERCO and Aprilia went down the road to putting the fight to KTM... but ran out of steam. Not because the bikes, riders or team behind them did not show promise... but when the initial results were not forthcoming, the projects found it hard to maintain the momentum needed to execute over the "three year plan" satisfactorily.
It is rarely in any sporting endeavour that you can burst into the ring and come away with a knock out win - like Tyson - first time up. You have to put a lot of hours behind the scenes in the gym... and even then you must be prepared to weather a few tough rounds, if you want to be standing at the bell.
Many people are of the missaprehension that KTM just turned up at DAKAR in 2001 and started winning... and have done since then. Nothing is further from the truth. From the companies earliest attampts with Kini and Co. back in the early to mid 90's, there were some real debacles... but they stuck with it, improved the machines, learnt the game, increased the logistics support and amassed a strong sponsor/media base, that has seen them become the undefeated title belt holders for over a decade.
: the third of the multi rider "factory" moto teams for 2013...
We've all been excited and caught up in the news that HONDA is returning to compete at DAKAR at a factory backed level.
And even though the HRC name has been away from DAKAR for over 20 years, there is still a wealth of experience that they have to draw on from their sattelite team operations around the globe over this time.
The critcal difference here (for me) as compared to the other Sherco/Aprilia type efforts we've seen before, is that when HRC
say they have a "three year plan", their corporate history indicates that they mean; "We plan to compete at the (budget appropriated and funds/planning set out to maintain the technical, financial, media and race support needed) DAKAR for the next three years".
come to play... they usually stay until the ARE successful and win...
500cc/MotoGP in the 80's 90' (through till this day), DAKAR in the late 80's*, F1 in the 80's/90's (*probably the reason they pulled the sponsor dollars/effort out of DAKAR to concentrate on F1...?)
So, the fact that HRC will come to the DAKAR in 2013, I know that many within the sport see this as a positive sign for the future. Do I think they will be successful first time back... to be honest... No.
Do I think that they can build something from where they could come back (after a full season through 2013) and win - even dominate - in 2014...? YES. Regardless of how well sorted this new CRF 450 "based" Honda rally bike turns out to be, to be honest I don't think that HRC in 2013 will have the riding staff and team experience with which to "lead" at the front. They may be able to chase down from behind and get results via attrition/missfortune of the competition... but to lead from out front (like only the two Aliens have proven that they can do repeatedly... Helder and Chaleco perhaps to a lesser extent) that is something the Honda crew will need anoth twelve months to acquire (both the team tacticians/management and the riders themselves).
The nominated HRC riding line up themselves are good on paper; Helder is (on form over the last 18 months) arguably the "best of the rest" after the two aliens... a logical choice for Honda to pick up. Wagon wheel Sam is undoubtedly a big prospect for the future... but he still has yet to COMPLETE a few rallies (yes I know technology let him down in the '12 DAKAR... but you still need seat time/completeion in Dakar before a rider can compete at the front)... even Coma/Despres had a couple of Dakars (and other rallies) under their belt before they joined the "elite" few up front. As far as the other two nominated team riders go, good solid performers, who can make inroads on top 15 maybe top ten... but nothing I've seen in results to date that indicate they would be podium threats.
When will the throne be abdicated...?
The question of whether the two "Aliens" can still stave off the competition... are they are reputedly in the "twilight" of their careers? Well there is a case to be made that both Mudboy
and Mike Comba
are getting older... maturing if you will. But nothing seems to indicate that their desire to win is any less. Sure they don't ride EVERYTHING on the calender anymore (they are both are at a point in respective careers where they can be selective of the races they whish to enter), but when they do - dammit! - almost always
they are fighting at the very front.
These two are still very much the "fastest guys with a roadbook in front of them"
out there... Both
have over a decade of experience/maturity, are in peak physical riding form. PLUS, they have the most
professional team/organisation behind them. Frankly I don't see anyone that comes to the table with guns as big as those. Too old?
Hmmmm.... Peterhansel won right up until the day he retired from the moto's... And he comes back (occassionally) after 10 YEAR ABSCENCE and is still competitive!
Both the "aliens" possess the same genetic code... don't expect them to be anything less than the yardstick by which others are measured come January.