Talking all things Dakar with Chris Evans.
We caught up with 15-time Dakar veteran, Manager of four-time Dakar winner Cyril Despres and ASO representative (Dakar organisers), Chris Evans, last week. He graciously took time out of his Dakar Competitor Workshop schedule to talk all things Dakar...
Transmoto: This is your second year doing the Dakar Rally seminars around Australia. Would you say there has been more interest from the public in the Dakar?
Chris Evans: The thing is, it's a long-term activity. Dakar isn't something you just decide to do on a whim. There are people coming to the seminars saying they want to do it in three to five years. It takes a lot of preparation to get to the start line. I couldn't say there was an increase in entries to the Dakar over the last two years due to my seminars, but it's a long-term thing and I'm sure it will bear fruit in the end.
But are you getting more interest in people coming to the seminars?
Yes. If you look at Australia, you've got a good off-road scene, some good riders, your economy is strong and you've places to ride. You might think you've problems with land access but believe me, compared with Europe, it's paradise here. So you've a lot of factors that make it a good breading ground for Dakar entrants. Plus, I think Australians look much happier in South America than they ever did in Africa. There are a lot of cultural similarities between South America and Australians, whereas, to me, North Africa looked like more of a struggle.
Is it getting any cheaper for riders to go over and race Dakar in terms of subsidies and government benefits?
No. The Dakar hasn't gone up in price for a long time. I think it went up 2% this year but for the last four or five years, since they cancelled the Dakar in 2008, the price has been frozen. So you could say, relatively, the entry fees have gone down. I don't think it's any cheaper to go race in South America than it is in North Africa. Because your economy is relatively good, I imagine it would be a bit easier for an Australian rider to get sponsorship than it is for say a UK rider. Again, I think most people's entries in the bike class are at least 50% self financed.
What are your thoughts of the Australasian Safari/Dakar deal where the winner of the Safari Dakar Challenge gets free entry into the 2013 Dakar, with the proviso that the winner has never raced the Dakar before and never finished in the top ten of an FIM rally? Based on your experiences with the Dakar, is less than six months enough time for an amateur rider to prepare for the hardest rally in the world?
It's a good question. For sure, you need to be well prepared for the Dakar. On the other hand, if you have just put in a good result in the Safari it isn't as if you are starting from scratch. It means that you are already physically fit, bike fit and mentally strong. It also means that you understand what it takes to do a long distance rally and that you have the necessary machinery and team support in place. I think it is also worth pointing out that just as nobody is forcing you to enter the Safari, nobody is under any obligation to actually enter the Dakar as a result of winning the Dakar Challenge. Plus, nobody entering the Dakar for the first time - whatever their level - should have any ambitions beyond getting safely to the final finish line. That is already a huge achievement.
Fair call. Let's talk a bit about Cyril. Any chance we'll see him back down in Australia soon?
Strangely enough, I think so. Cyril came and did the Australasian Safari last year and didn't go fantastic. There were things that he liked about it but it wasn't a dream debut. If you look at the history of Europeans coming over to ride the Safari it hasn't always gone smoothly. He had a long discussion with the organisers - Cyril has a lot of experience and has raced virtually every rally in the world - and he believes the basic ingredients are good. The Safari has evolved in isolation to other races, in that it's not a round of the FIM World Rally Championship so it doesn't have to have the same structure, and has evolved to suit the Australian market, which is good and bad. What Cyril said was the more they could align themselves to the international standard the more he would be tempted to come back. But Cyril is 37 and he isn't busting a gut to do a lot of races. He needs to go to the Dakar and be ready to win and to do that he needs to do a couple of races during the year. So he'll cherry pick an event that he fancies doing. But he'll watch the Safari's progress and see how it's evolving. If he sees that they are doing what they are planning to do then for sure, I think he would like to come back.
Cyril has been doing the Dakar since 2000. Do you think he plans to take it easy any time soon?
He has, in terms of the amount of races he does in a year - he isn't doing the extreme enduros anymore. I think he's going to Erzberg this year to ride KTM's new Freeride but I don't think he's planning to win it. The whole of his year is focused on the Dakar. And to win the Dakar, it isn't all about speed so he can carry on doing the rally for four or five years if he wants.
Cyril had an accident on the slopes last month and damaged the ligaments in his shoulder. How long is he expected to be off the bike for?
It wasn't a huge problem. The doctor said three weeks. But the thing is, when you're in Cyril's situation - with no pressure to do any races besides the Dakar - he can take his time. At that age it's important not to rush back into it. For Cyril, if the doctor said three weeks he will probably take a month, which is why he could still be riding the Dakar in four years time if he wants.
Thanks for taking the time Chris. All the best.