These are the first official pictures of the 2014 Honda CRF450 Rally - which, as its name suggests, has been developed specifically for the Dakar and other extreme off-road events
Honda's motorsport division, HRC, returned to the Dakar Rally in January 2013 for the first time in 24 years with a bike based on its commercial CRF450X enduro machine.
The 'works' entry posted mixed results; vastly experienced lead rider Helder Rodriques - who finished fourth - was the only HRC rider to crack the top 30, but the team learned valuable lessons about engine output (there's no such thing as enough), aerodynamic performance (Dakar bikes are limited to 160km/h but even at that speed a bike that's oversensitive to gusty sidewinds can be lethal on loose surfaces), durability (the 450cc four-stroke engines have to be able to run flat out under horrendous conditions for at least 12 hours without breaking anything) and maintenance requirements engines - the top teams have dedicated "night shift" technicians who completely rebuild the bikes at every bivouac.
REVISED AND ENHANCED
All of which has been applied to the revised and 'enhanced' (Honda's word, not ours) 2014 CRF450 Rally. It retains the previous version's PGM-FI electronic fuel-injection system, which proved unexpectedly durable in the severe and highly variable conditions of the world's toughest motorsport challenge, but has been upgraded in almost every other respect.
The new Rally will be ridden in anger for the first time in the Morocco Rally, starting on 13 October, using the same combination of five riders and five machines as for the 2014 Dakar Rally - Helder Rodrigues (Portugal, 34), Sam Sunderland (Britain, 24), Javier Pizzolito (Argentina, 33), Joan Barreda (Spain, 29), and Paulo Goncalves (Portugal, 34).
But that's just a warm-up for the main event: the Dakar, which begins on 5 January 2014 in Rosario, Argentina. It will include some particularly gruelling stages in Bolivia and finish on 18 January in Valparaiso, Chile, about 8000km later. The new CRF450 will be released to other rally teams as a production rally machine during 2014.