The Spanish Red Bull KTM rider rebounds from the injury that kept him out of last year’s Dakar Rally to become the 2014 Dakar Rally Champion.
After two weeks and 13 grueling stages, including some of the toughest in the history of the event, Red Bull KTM’s Marc Coma of Spain rode into Valparaiso, Chile, to a hero’s welcome as the 2014 Dakar Rally Motorcycle Champion today.
Coma completed the 5000-mile long South American trek with a total time of 54 hours, 50 minutes and 53 seconds, 1 hour, 52 minutes and 27 seconds ahead of his teammate and rally support rider on the KTM team, Jordi Viladoms, giving KTM a one-two finish atop the podium. Team Yamaha’s Olivier Pain finished third overall, 2 hours and three seconds behind Coma after two weeks of racing.
It was an emotional finish for Coma, who last won the Dakar Rally in 2011 and had to miss last year’s event due to injury.
“These are really strong, personal feelings,” Coma said. “It (the win) represents a shedload of sacrifices and hard work. It’s an extreme race, with ups and downs. Looking back, I remember being unable to start last year’s race. And yet I’m here now, I’ve won. I’d like to thank those around me who made this comeback possible. Every time I win this rally, I say I’m going to savor it. I’ll do it with my loved ones, my family. I don’t know if I’ll ever win it again. I’ll try. I’ll work hard for it, but it’s a very complicated rally.”
Coma finished 18th today, well outside the top 10, in the final stage from La Serena to Valparaiso. Team HRC Honda’s Joan Barreda won the stage, a small consolation after suffering a catastrophe in the penultimate stage and losing out on any chance for a final podium spot, let alone a win. But Barreda can take some comfort in the fact that he won more stages than any other motorcycle rider for the second year in a row, even while mounted on a different motorcycle brand this year, Honda. And there is little doubt that the Honda CRF450 Rally factory machine is vastly improved over last year’s. With a little more luck and better reliability, Barreda and Honda should be a threat for the Dakar Rally win next year.
But they may also need to adopt a smarter strategy, something that Coma clearly has wired. The Spaniard knows when to charge and when to lay up, and it showed through in his masterful domination of the rally despite only garnering two stage wins (Coma had the fastest time in a third stage, Stage 11, but was penalized after changing engines). Coma’s plan was to build a huge lead over his rivals in one single special test. It is a strategy that he used successfully during his 2011 victory, and he followed it to a tee during Stage 4 this year in Argentina between San Juan and Chilecito, to claim an overall lead that he did not relinquish for the rest of the rally. It gave Coma the luxury if not having to push as hard, just the way that he likes it. Barring a freak occurrence, Coma effectively had the Dakar win sewn up one stage early, making today’s result almost inconsequential.
Then again, Viladoms, who served as Coma’s support rider during the entire rally, deserves some credit as well. Not only was the Spaniard on hand to make a critical fuel tank repair for Coma during one of the marathon special tests (the second part of which was called off) early in the rally, but he simply rode a smart rally, proving that KTM’s decision to hire him to fill the seat vacated by the untimely passing of American star Kurt Caselli was a smart one.
“I’m overwhelmed,” Viladoms said. “It’s a big thing for me, especially after the year I went through. I’m over the moon with this result.”
Pain was also a model of steady riding. Although he struggled with navigational errors in the first half of the rally, he never gave up, and it paid off with a career best third overall finish, just ahead of his teammate, Cyril Despres, who ended up fouth overall.
“This edition was filled with emotions and had a difficult first week,” Pain said. “I gave it my all throughout the second week… and I achieved my objective, a podium place. I’d prepared for it, but the field was strong. I was 40 minutes behind the podium on the rest day, and I spent all week long thinking of this. I inched closer to Jordi bit by bit, and then I benefitted from Joan’s bad luck yesterday. Then I had to see off Cyril… It was never easy. I wasn’t nervous this morning, just looking forward to the finish.”
Coma’s Dakar win was the fourth of his career, the other three in 2006, 2009 and 2011. He now trails a trio of Frenchman on the all-time Dakar motorcycle winner’s list: Stephane Peterhansel has six wins, while Cyril Neveu and Despres have five wins each.
2014 Dakar Rally
La Serena-Valparaiso, Chile
Results: January 18, 2014
1. Joan Barreda-Hon/01:59:44
2. Olivier Pain-Yam/+00:00:40
3. Helder Rodrigues-Hon/+00:01:23
4. Juan Pedrero-She/+00:01:35
5. Cyril Despres-Yam/+00:02:30
6. Jordi Viladoms-KTM/+00:03:31
7. Michael Metge-Yam/+00:04:08
8. Daniel Gouet-Hon/+00:04:17
9. Kuba Pryzgonski-KTM/+00:05:16
10. David Casteu-KTM/+00:07:20
2014 Dakar Rally Final Results (After 13 of 13 rounds)
1. Marc Coma-KTM/54:50:53
2. Jordi Viladoms-KTM/+01:52:27
3. Olivier Pain-Yam/+02:00:03
4. Cyril Despres-Yam/+02:05:38
5. Helder Rodrigues-Hon/+02:11:09
6. Kuba Pryzgonski-KTM/+02:31:46
7. Joan Barreda-Hon/+02:54:01
8. Daniel Gouet-Hon/+03:10:34
9. Stefan Svitko-KTM/+03:50:10
10. David Casteu-KTM/+03:58:09