BAS DAKAR KTM RACING TEAM will start with three riders in Jeddah on January 3th with American Skyler Howes # 9, Australian Michael Burgess # 80 and Dutchman Olaf Harmsen # 115. Team owner Bart van der Velden hase been with his team in Spain for the Andalucia Rally at the beginning of October and then also paid a visit to the “Rally Station” of former KTM factory rider Jordi Viladoms where Skyler Howes and Olaf Harmsen could further work on their navigation skills.
The team travels to Jeddah at the end of December with three pilots (fourth man South African Kenny Gilbert has been injured). A much smaller team than would normally be the case. But nothing is normal this year, with very few rallies on the calendar and the smallest Dutch contribution to the Dakar in years.
Bart van der Velden: “It is a completely different year than other years, partly because a number of customers have indicated that they will skip a year. If I would do Dakar for the first time myself, I would certainly have considered that too, I understand that choice. We have Olaf (Harmsen red.) With us who is going for the second time, Michael Burgess from Australia who drove the Africa Race at the beginning of this year and Skyler Howes. That is slightly different from nine drivers last year. This is difficult for us, because we have to go with the full line-up anyway. We do not want to compromise on quality. It’s smaller, but we’re going the way we used to go.
Olaf Harmsen and Michael Burgess aim to finish, Skyler Howes will compete for a top classification. Howes finished last Dakar as best amateur with a 9th place overall and became an elite rider status. He must therefore also adhere to a number of rules that only apply to elite riders, such as the limited number of rear tires that may be used.
Bart van der Velden: ,, The fact that Skyler has become an elite rider is not an immediate advantage, but it makes it more fun and interesting for him from a sporting point of view. He belongs there. In the past year he has driven with a complete standard KTM 450 rally bike, with which he has had quite a few problems because the speeds in the front are so much higher than with the average rider. He can potentially drive top five, but everything has to be right for that. We get an good support from KTM, with the bike we have built for him, he must be able to take a step. ”
“I expect top speed to be less important because the rally will be much more technical. They are going to get those straight strokes of forty kilometers in the second week not anymore. That there is enough power is important. A key point for the top riders is certainly the suspension, together with WP we have really taken big steps in the good direction. We were able to see that clearly with Ross Branch last year. In Spain, during the Andalucia Rally, Skyler was introduced to the bike. He really had to get used to it. It was important to avoid injuries and not to take unnecessary risks so shortly before Dakar, the result was of minor importance. And it was especially important to get the good feeling. The speed is there ”, says Bart in the workshop in Boekel.
“It was nice to be on the road again as a team and that everything started rolling again. Then you also get the good feeling again. We closed the Andalucia rally well. Afterwards, the team followed the Dakar training with Jordi Viladoms, who set up the Rally Station for drivers who want to drive Dakar. The focus is then completely on navigating. Skyler and Olaf, who were there for the second time, learned so much again. That was really good for them, with one day of theory and four days of riding where we could also go on the KTM rally test track on the last day. ”
Earlier this year, after a consultation with the FIM, teams, drivers and ASO, a number of new rules were introduced to make the Dakar (and other FIM rally raids) safer. The introduction of the digital roadbook was one of them, but that turned out not to be feasible for the upcoming Dakar. In Spain, during the Andalucia Rally, the teams could already get acquainted with the new roadbook.
Bart van der Velden: “It is good that the new rules are in place. And it is also good that the digital roadbook is not yet there for us. It’s 70% in order, but the last 30% is the hardest. Reading and how the rider must process the information is now the biggest challenge. That is also a personal thing. I do support the idea, with a view to safety. At first I was a bit hesitant about it, but now that I have seen it in Spain I have more confidence in it.
Mandatory during Dakar: the airbag vest
The introduction of the airbag vest is also a new development. KTM and Husqvarna have been testing it for two years, and several manufacturers were present in Spain so riders could see which vest would work best for them.
Bart van der Velden: “It works better than everyone expected, but there are still complaints that it is too hot. We will be less bothered by this in Saudi Arabia. When the vest is off, it will continue to function as a normal body protector. The jacket has to be adjusted accordingly, the moment the vest is taken off it expands considerably and there must be enough space.
The elite riders are allowed to use a maximum of 6 rear tires in the coming Dakar. Well one thing according to Bart. “In terms of regulations, the organization has taken the right steps. In terms of route we don’t know much yet, but I do expect it to be a very nice rally. In the run-up to the Dakar, more will be known, also with regard to the regulations surrounding covid-19.