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2011-01-24 "A Dakar to remember"

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A Dakar to remember

It's the hardest race in the world, but after more than 9,500 km of action, spread over 13 Stages across South America, the Dakar 2011 is finally over. Just to finish this arduous and machine-destroying rally is a remarkable achievement, and that's exactly what is being celebrated by all the BMW riders that took on the challenge of this legendary motorsport event that began and finished in Buenos Aires.

Following ten months of preparation and two weeks of the hardest racing imaginable, two riders from 'Team BMW Motorrad by speedbrain' arrived at the finish line of the Dakar 2011 and in doing so reached their first milestone in the young history of the squad.

In the end, a top 15 finish on the BMW G450 rally bike for Dutch rider Frans Verhoeven and a 30th placing for Portuguese rider Pedro Bianchi Prata are creditable achievements but don't even begin to tell the full story. Anyone who takes a closer look at the race statistics will notice that both team and bikes were fully competitive – it's just that Lady Luck wasn't kind to the Bavarian newcomers.

In reality, the recent Dakar turned out to be a rollercoaster ride of highs and lows for the young team. The first setback came back in October, when new signing David Fretigne crashed during a test race and wasn't able to fully recover in time for the start of the rally.

Brazilian rider Ze Helio deputised for injured rally ace Fretigne and posted some impressive early Dakar results, including finishing the first Stage in eighth place (and one of three BMW riders in the top ten) even though he hadn't ridden the G450 since last August. Cheered on by the local fans, Ze Helio finished Stage three in sixth position, moving up to fifth place in the overall classification. Unfortunately, the likeable Brazilian's Dakar effort came to a premature end just 50 kilometres into Stage 6, from Iquique to Arica, when he crashed and broke his collarbone.

There was another truly heroic effort from Portuguese rider Paulo Goncalves, who started the 2011 Dakar incredibly strongly, with a top five finish on the first special Stage and a podium finish on the challenging sandy and stony third Stage, which promoted him to fourth in the overall standings.

Then, on the fifth and very demanding Stage of Dakar 2011 Gonvalves took a convincing victory aboard the speedbrain-developed BMW G450 and landed the first Dakar Stage victory for BMW in 10 years. His team-mate Frans Verhoeven missed second place by just one second, nearly making it a 'one-two' for the team.

However, on Stage 6 – the same Stage where Ze Helio broke his collarbone – Goncalves suffered from electrical problems all day which cost him many hours of vital racing time and put him right down in the rankings. Two days later – during Stage eight from Antofagasta to Copiapo – things got even worse for the young Portuguese rider while riding through a highly dangerous part of the Stage littered with hidden stones called 'Fesch Fesch'. Having gained ground following his electrical problems and actually leading the Stage after 50 kilometres, Goncalves hit one of these hidden stones and when he tried to pick himself up, he recognised a heavy pain in his shoulder. Sure enough, it was another broken collarbone and the race was over for him.

In the very same Stage, and just a few kilometres down the road, his team-mate Frans Verhoeven crashed. Although he wasn't injured, he did hit a stone quite hard, resulting in a hole to his engine case. Pedro Bianchi Prata (the third rider in the team) stopped and helped, so he lost valuable time as well. Following the lengthy repair, Verhoeven got going again, but it cost him nearly five hours – effectively ending his title hopes there and then.

However, Verhoeven is a tough character – both mentally and physically – and his never-give-up attitude was clear on Stage 9 when he finished a 235 km Special around Copiapo in second place, scoring his best result of the rally so far. With many riders struggling in the big dunes with navigation problems, Verhoeven found the conditions to his liking and put in a commanding performance on the BMW rally bike.

A navigational error on Stage 10 left the Dutchman in 12th place on the day and 22nd overall, so the hope of a top 15 finish seemed a long way off. However, a seventh place finish on Stages 11 and 12 were followed up with a super-strong performance on Stage 13 from Cordoba to Buenos Aires. Verhoeven lived up to his intentions and took the Stage victory for the team!

It was a fitting end for the new team, after all the blood, sweat and tears of 9,000 kilometres of racing across the South American Continent – and Verhoeven was delighted to claim the second Stage victory, saying that he "entered the day determined to post a top result for the team. The bike worked awesome and made this win possible."

Pedro Biancho also said farewell to the Dakar 2011 with a satisfying result, finishing in the top 30 among over 90 riders who actually made it to the finish of this marathon event. This final Stage marked a forgiving end for the team, and emphasised how competitive the speedbrain-developed BMW G450RR really is.

This was a view shared by team principal Wolfgang Fischer, who acknowledged Verhoeven and Goncalves' heroics in recording a Stage win each, plus three additional podium finishes.

"Altogether our team riders recorded 17 finishes inside the top ten, which is a solid foundation from which to build," he commented. "The 14-man crew of riders, mechanics and helpers came from seven different nations and worked very well together. Everyone was fully concentrated on his job, there was a positive never-give-up attitude and a strong team spirit. We're fully motivated and will keep working hard to achieve good results in this year's FIM Rally World Championship. I'd like to thank all our sponsors and partners, first of all BMW and Monster Energy, for their vote of confidence and support. Our injured riders Paulo Goncalves, Ze Helio and David Fretigne are recovering well and will soon be ready to get on the gas again."

Privateer BMW G450X rider Simon Pavey finished the 2011 Dakar Rally in 70th place overall, and third in the 'Malles Moto' class, claiming his sixth finishers medal (five on BMW bikes). Despite many days of bad luck, hardship and a serious crash, Simon never threw in the towel. We'll bring you his story next week.

For more information on this year's Dakar effort and the BMW G450-based rally bike, please visit

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