Honda turned up at the Dakar back in January 2012, and immediately found themselves in the middle of a war. Yamaha had found their feet (and speed), Husqvarna had turned their BMW hybrid into something competitive and KTM, with their joint-favourite rider Marc Coma out (injured just before the big event), were all hands on deck trying to save victory with their remaining Dakar-god Cyril Despres.
Amid the skirmish - one of the most hotly contested Dakars in years - Honda didn’t exactly creep in (you can’t hide a 40-man team) but they worked away quietly, diligently, claiming just two podiums from the 14 stage finishes (with Johnny Campbell and Helder Rodrigues) to bank two lower leaderboard placings in the final reckoning. By their own suspiciously modest goals it was ‘job done’.
This year, there can be no downplaying the situation. Honda have reworked their rally racer from the ground up - it’s now got its own prototype motor - and with five very strong riders lined up they could well manage to achieve in two years what was claimed to be a three-year goal… to claim overall victory.
After just one year of trying to hang on to the established teams riding what was ostensibly a modified ten-year-old trail bike, this year Honda are turning up armed to the teeth. Not that they’ll have it all their own way of course… KTM have responded by making an all-new version of their 450RR rally bike, while Yamaha (France) have... well, Yamaha now have Cyril Despres!
You can spend a fortune in carbon fibre and on R&D - or you can simply buy yourself the fastest and most consistently winning rider in the paddock. It’s not like the Yamaha’s YZ450F-based bike is slow either. It has Dakar stage wins to its name and proven reliability. So while Honda are here in the biggest, meanest way possible they’ve got one hell of a fight on their hands. Here’s the story of the Honda… and what it’s up against!
Below: The million dollar CRF 450 Rally. Below right: Two shots of the Honda EXP-2 entered in the 1995 Dakar