Jordi Viladoms: Preparing for Dakar 2021
The Dakar Rally is one of the most notoriously difficult races on the planet. With the 2021 event just days away, we caught up with KTM Rally Team manager Jordi Viladoms to get an insight into Dakar, what’s new for 2021 and the team’s goals.
Rally is who I am, it’s what I do…
“I’m Jordi Viladoms, team manager for the KTM Factory Racing rally team. I’ve completed the Dakar Rally 15 times – 10 as a racer and more recently five as a team manager. The Dakar is a really tough race with lots of kilometers and lots of days racing. It’s always challenging with the conditions in the desert. It’s not an easy event for the riders, or the teams. It is so long, you have to be both physically, and mentally strong to survive.”
Once you start it’s hard to stop…
“The Dakar Rally is like a drug for me. When I raced, what kept me motivated was setting goals and then reaching them. My first goal was to finish, then it was a top 20 finish and then top 10, and when you reach the top 10 the goal is to win. Now, on the management side, it is the same for our team and the riders. We race to win and so far we are really happy with the results that our riders have achieved. We’re focused on pushing to win more Dakars in the future.”
Success is never easy in the desert…
“It’s been great for KTM to win the Dakar Rally as much as we have (18 consecutive victories from 2004-2019). From the outside it may look easy, but it really isn’t. It is really hard work for the whole team and the riders. Not winning the Dakar in 2020 gives us an even bigger motivation for next year and the years ahead. Of course we want to be back at the top of the podium and we’re hungry for victory. It’s a really tough race where every competitor and team pushes really hard for success.”
Three riders all focused on winning…
“With Toby, we have a good contender with a lot of experience and wins at the Dakar. The 2020 race didn’t quite go his way, but I am confident that he can overcome the challenges he faced and return to the top step of the podium. Sam was unlucky to crash out in 2020. The terrain was what he excels in so it was unfortunate, but crashes can happen at any time. He’s now full recovered and ready to be a contender again. With the route looking like it will need strong navigation skills, this should really suit Matthias. This is his strength, along with his fitness, so there is a big chance of a strong result. All three riders are really well prepared and capable of winning, so we are confident going into the race.”
Testing, training, working for the future…
“The team has been testing and training a lot over recent months, we’ve worked on adapting the bike to suit the terrain and conditions that the riders will face. We’re pleased to have made positive steps and the bike is working better than previous years. At the same time, we have been working on our future rally bike so all in all, it’s been a lot of work, all concentrated into the end of 2020. The riders have been riding similar terrain to what we will face in January while also focusing on strengthening their roadbook skills. It’s been a really busy time for us and I’m hoping that this hard work pays off in the race.”
Focused on what we need to do to win…
“We are really motivated to reclaim the title. With KTM winning 18 Dakars in a row it was painful to lose the title in 2020. Since then, we have focused on what we need to do to win again. It’s a really competitive race and it is a huge effort by all the teams and riders. After not winning last year, there is now an even bigger effort to try and win again.”
Adapt, understand, slow the pace…
“For the 2021 race the roadbook will be handed out to each rider in the morning of each stage, which is new for everyone. This is the same for all competitors and our riders have been training for this. There’s also been changes with the safety regulations and it’s now mandatory for all riders to wear an airbag, which is a positive move from a safety aspect. Also, our riders and all elite class riders are now limited to six rear tires and just one piston change throughout the whole race. This should make riders think and slow their pace as it won’t be possible to push throughout the whole race. All in all, they’ll adapt for these changes.”
Strategy, what strategy?
“The route for 2021 looks much slower than 2020. There are many changes of direction, which should mean tricky navigation. It’s going to be hard on the riders, not knowing until the morning of each stage how technical that day will be. Therefore, there isn’t really a strategy like in previous years. Each rider will need to think each and every day to do their best.”
Remove the pressure, keep it relaxed…
“We created the KTM Factory Racing Junior Rally Program with Daniel Sanders to run in parallel with the factory team. The idea behind this is to bring in a new rider without them feeling the pressure of racing for the factory team, and to allow them to enjoy a more relaxed approach to their racing. Part of the idea is to plan for the future, and the junior program will be a feeder team into the factory team. Within this structure there is much less pressure on Daniel, he has time to learn with the goal of progressing step by step and perhaps being able to reach the factory team. He has all the tools he needs, and can learn from our three very experienced and successful rally racers, so his position is perfect for developing his skills, without any pressure. He’s actually learning really fast and we’re very happy with the progress that he’s made since joining the team.”
Step-by-step with an eye on the future…
“With Daniel, we knew he had great potential. He won the International Six Days Enduro (ISDE) on a big bike, so a rally bike wasn’t going to be too difficult for him to get used to. He knows high speeds and his riding skills are very good. As soon as he arrived, he started learning with the roadbook and understood it quite quickly. His first race as a rally rider was the Andalucia Rally and he won a stage there, so everything is really promising with Daniel. For now, though, we don’t put any pressure on him, and we take everything step by step. In the future, I’ve no doubt that he will be a contender at the Dakar Rally.”
The prologue for the 2021 Dakar Rally begins on January 2nd 2021, and the event concludes after 12 stages on January 15th with one rest day on January 9th. There are 108 motorcycle competitors entered into the race, which is being held for the 43rd time. KTM’s four-rider line-up hopes to bring the title back to Austria, but with an event held over 7,646 kilometers, with nearly 5,000 competitive kilometers, anything can and does happen. The team is based in a bivouac, which is a base that travels to follow the race and is where the rider departs from and arrives to each night aboard his KTM 450 RALLY.
We at the KTM blog would like to wish the KTM Factory Racing team the very best of luck! Head over to the Racing News on KTM.com for the latest 2021 Dakar Rally news.
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