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Debrief Dakar 2014: Review with Alex Doringer

Alex Doringer is the Team Manager of the ultra-successful Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Team along with overseeing KTM’s Rally operation for support riders. We talk to him just days after KTM’s 13th consecutive win with factory racer Marc Coma about how tough this year’s race was, the new bike and how he thinks the riders performed.

Talk us through this year’s rally Alex; just how tough has it been?
“The rally was incredibly tough. The first seven days until Salta felt like the old days, as it was very intense for the riders covering a lot of kilometers, and also for the team with little time to sleep and a lot of kilometers to travel on the assistance route. It was a very difficult first half of the race. We managed to have a small gap in the lead, as Marc did an excellent job, especially as I believe that since the race has been here in South America, this been the most difficult one.”

“[...] I believe that since the race has been here in South America, this been the most difficult one.”

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This year the race went into Bolivia for the first time. Tell us a little about the terrain there?
“The terrain in Bolivia was rough, especially for the tyres. There were a lot of stones and gravel roads, which was really tough on the bikes. It was difficult for the material and for the marathon stage, where riders had no technical assistance overnight. New things are always exciting, as you don’t completely know what to expect, although we did expect it to be very technical, which was confirmed. Navigation was a key point, and surviving the marathon stage was really important.”

Tell us about Marc and Jordi’s performance to take that stunning 1-2 for KTM?
“The Dakar is like the Olympics of rally and the guys work hard all year for this event. Marc is very professional and he knows exactly how he has to prepare. He has a strong team behind him and the new bike, which was designed with a lot of input from him, was very strong; this was so positive as he was a big support when we built the new bike. The performance of Jordi Viladoms was fantastic. He wasn’t in an easy position to jump in, but he was so happy when I made the call to him to have the opportunity to come back to KTM, and the reason for the call to Jordi was at that stage, when Kurt passed away, we really needed a friend in the team. We needed someone who would help the team, fit well within the team, has a good character and we knew he was the right guy. With his performance we feel he has paid this faith back; I always believed he had the talent to make a top result and he’s proved his capabilities. He’s a great guy and a great racer; I’m glad he’s been here with us and I’m pumped with his result.”

The performance of Jordi Viladoms was fantastic. He wasn’t in an easy position to jump in, but he was so happy when I made the call to him to have the opportunity to come back to KTM [...] When Kurt passed away, we really needed a friend in the team.

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What happened to Ruben Faria and Francisco ‘Chaleco’ López?
“Unfortunately Ruben Faria crashed, and after his super result last year at the Dakar, where he finished in 2nd place, it was a real disappointment. It was a shame and way too early, but at any point in the Dakar something can happen. If you lose a small amount of concentration, or go the wrong way, it can have big consequences. I’m happy nothing major happened to Ruben; he will be back soon and he will have another chance to do the Dakar. I’d like to send my best regards to him and I’m sure he will come back strong. Chaleco López is a very unique character and is so passionate about the Dakar. He works so hard for this race and he is really living it; I was super sure he would be in the top five or top three. Unfortunately this year a small mistake meant he crashed, but because of the location of the crash in a tricky section, he fell down something like seven metres. It was a huge blow that he was unable to ride into his home country during the race. Thankfully, while the crash was quite big, there were no major injuries.”

After a strong season finishing 3rd in the FIM World Cross-Country Rallies Championship, how well do you think KTM-supported rider Jakub ‘Kuba’ Przygonski from Poland do this year with a sixth place in the overall standings?
“It’s fantastic to see this young guy racing. In the last few Dakar’s he’s had his older brothers guiding him, but they’ve raced cars this year, so it was down to him on the bike for his fifth Dakar. He’s learned a lot, and the performance was fantastic. He looks pretty healthy and not too tired after the race and he’s done an amazing job. I think he is growing well, taking a lot of responsibilities, and with working with us, seeing how Marc and the team does the job, has been really beneficial to him. I am happy with his performance and I’m sure if he continues in this way he will one day be in the top positions.”

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Supported KTM rider Riaan van Niekerk has done a good job at his second ever rally with 12th position. What are your thoughts on the South African’s performance?
“Riaan has just finished his second Dakar this year and it looks like his team manager taught him very well about the necessary things. I think Riaan has found a real passion for the sport, he loves working with the KTM team, he’s learning every day and he’s not only very fast, but he’s also understanding the navigation, which is a key point for rally racing. He looks very fit, which after 13 days racing Dakar, is a good signal for the preparation done before the race. So he has done an excellent job and I’m pleased with the result; I hope he continues in the sport as he has the right talent, passion and I believe a top ten in the future is definitely possible.”

KTM Australia’s Ben Grabham had a tough rally, which ended prematurely, but in the days he raced he showed some good speed. Tell us your thoughts?
“Ben was probably the biggest surprise for many people here at the Dakar, because he’s shown a lot of speed and talent. He’s a very calm guy and difficult to calculate. I was sure he could make a really good result, and it’s a shame he crashed out in a very difficult place, but I’m glad he isn’t injured. I’m sure with him we have a friend of KTM, who I am sure can deliver the message of rally sport back to Australia. He is important, as I’m sure he will brief young guys and show his passion to the young guys in Australia; I hope he comes back to race again, but if not I hope he will bring some young guys here to show them how they have to do the Dakar.”

“Ben was probably the biggest surprise for many people here at the Dakar, because he’s shown a lot of speed and talent. [...] I hope he comes back to race again, but if not I hope he will bring some young guys here to show them how they have to do the Dakar.”

This year KTM contested the Dakar with a new bike that has been completely revised from the ground up with only one race to test it before the Dakar. How has the new KTM 450 RALLY performed?
“If we’re talking about modifications we would need at this ‘ultimate’ test of the Dakar, if there’s something necessary to do, we’d always do it after the race, but honestly there’s nothing particular right now. With Marc we changed the engine for security purposes. It wasn’t necessary, but after many kilometers it’s better to change to be sure than to make a risk when in such a strong position for the race. Stefan Huber and his team, the technical guys, have worked very well and very hard and it’s so important to have had this big support from  Mr. Pierer, Pit Beirer and Heinz Kinigadner to make the new bike project happen. Their passion helps us every day and motivates us. I also would like to thank and highlight the work of Philipp Habsburg and the R&D team, as well as Gerald Kiska and his team. All of the people working on this project have been important; the bike is fantastic, the support we’ve had has been amazing and the results highlight what everyone has done.”

“All of the people working on this project have been important; the bike is fantastic, the support we’ve had has been amazing and the results highlight what everyone has done.”

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Tell us how important having a good team is to be successful at the Dakar Rally?
“Every single person in the team is important, so to make a good team you have to find people who can do the job well and fit together with everyone. If you look inside our team a little you will see in that we are all friends and like a big family, where we are lucky to work inside this sport, which is our passion. The team is together for three weeks intensely for Dakar and you can imagine it’s really important that from truck driver, to spare parts manager, to myself, to the engine guys, everybody has to work on the same goal, everyone must be concentrated and focused for the time at the Dakar. I’m really very proud to be responsible for this team and also for the trust from the board members back home. The payback for all of this is shown with the result.”

“If you look inside our team a little you will see in that we are all friends and like a big family, where we are lucky to work inside this sport, which is our passion. [...] I´m really very proud to be responsible for this team [...].”

How does it feel to be so successful again? Is it any different from other years?
“Every year is different and every year the Dakar has its own challenge. This year we had some good competition and some difficulties within the year; we started to build a new bike, and we got the news Cyril had left the team, then unfortunately we lost Kurt Caselli in an accident, which was especially difficult as he was one of my good friends. Everyone has been very down, and with a lot of mixed emotions we came to the Dakar with many people talking about the competition. Honda and Yamaha arrived with intent, and I told everyone within our team not to listen to the speculation, focus on the job, as we are the best team. Everyone is following what we are doing; 2013 was a tough year and if 2014 starts with this success for KTM, for Red Bull, for Kärcher and all of our sponsors, Motorex, Akrapovic and everyone, it is really positive, as I think this is the payback we would like to give. I’d like to thank Broadlink for all of their help, especially with the satellite reception and technical support to help us put together all of the small things. I am so happy to have all of these people supporting us, they appreciate what we are doing with a fantastic team, fantastic image and I think we’ve shown a strong character within the team. Winning is always something sweet, as there is no better taste than winning, but this year is a special one. From my side I want to give this victory in honor of my good friend Kurt Caselli.”

“2013 was a tough year and if 2014 starts with this success for KTM, for Red Bull, for Kärcher and all of our sponsors, Motorex, Akropovic and everyone, it is really positive, as I think this is the payback we would like to give. [...] Winning is always something sweet, as there is no better taste than winning, but this year is a special one. From my side I want to give this victory in honor of my good friend Kurt Caselli.

Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Team & Kurt Caselli (© Maragni M., ktmimages.com)