Dakar 2015: Honda Presents Team HRC Rally

“No pressure, but I would like the victory.”

Team HRC CRF450 Rally race action shot

“For HRC, the Dakar Rally is on the same level as MotoGP,” HRC VP Shuhei Nakamoto said at the Team HRC Rally launch at Tecnopolis Park in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on the eve of the start of this year’s race.

“The engineers have done a great job,” Nakamoto said. “The Dakar Rally is the toughest rally in the world, and it’s an incredible race to test new technologies to transfer afterward on production bikes. From the outside, the bike looks similar to the 2014 version, but, believe me, inside we have improved every single part.”

"There is a lot of electronics in the CRF450 Rally," Team HRC General Manager Martino Bianchi confirmed. "HRC has used its know-how and experience gained in several fields in which Honda is involved."

How much technology derived from MotoGP hides behind the CRF450 Rally? Nakamoto didn’t reply directly to this question, but from his smile, we can understand that experience is gained in that world championship. “Not only technology,” he said, “but also teamwork.”

HRC Vice President Shuhei Nakamoto Shot

Nakamoto arrived at the press conference directly from the airport, and he flew back to Japan later in the day. His presence confirmed the importance of the Dakar Rally for HRC. "Honda won its last Dakar 25 years ago," he said. "We returned with a factory team in 2013, so this will be our third attempt. We can count on a strong lineup, and we are aiming at doing well. No pressure, but I would like the victory."

Gilles Lalay delivered Honda’s last success at the 1989 Dakar Rally. Considering its huge commitment in terms of machine development and riders, Honda indeed aims to win. Contrary to other teams, there won’t be “water boys” on the HRC squad. Joan Barreda and Helder Rodrigues are the top riders, but Paulo Gonçalves, Jeremias Israel, and Laia Sanz will also play crucial roles.

Barreda is fast on any kind of terrain, while Rodrigues is consistent and has worked on the development of the machine since the start. “To claim a victory in the Dakar,” Barreda said, “is the result of long and meticulous preparation. We have been working one year.” Gonçalves’ strongest point is race strategy. “If an HRC rider wins,” he said, “it’s like we all won.”

Sanz can boast 13 world titles. She has developed incredible confidence with the rally bike, thanks in great part to her many years of experience in trials. She lacks a bit of mechanical skills, but she did a three-day school at Honda Spain before coming to Argentina.

2015 Team HRC Rally Team Promotional Shot

“It’s a dream come true to be at the start of the Dakar with the Honda factory team,” Sanz said. “Last year, I finished 16th overall. It was a superb result, and now there are a lot of expectations. But the Dakar is a long race and everything can happen, so I aim at repeating last year’s result.”

Last but not least, Israel is also fast. He just needs experience. In fact, the Chilean was the surprise of the 2014 Dakar Rally before he suffered a serious incident.

After Sunday’s podium start ceremony in front of the “Pink House”—the Casa Rosada in Plaça de Mayo, right in the heart of the city—the riders will tackle the first stage: Buenos Aires to Villa Carlos Paz, 520 miles, 190 of it a timed special stage.