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
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.
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
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.
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 www.speedbrain-rally.com