By Maria Guidotti.
A white piece of paper. Twenty engineers around a table and one goal in mind. If it was not that they had to start to design the new CRF450 Rally, they would have written the intention that was in their mind: yosho. Winning.
Since back-to-back historic Dakar wins in 2020 and 2021, two editions without a victory were enough for Honda to further evolve the mighty Honda CRF for the Dakar 2024. Takashi Sasaki, Honda’s project leader, explains the huge work behind the scene to provide the Monster Energy Honda riders Pablo Quintanilla, Ricky Brabec, Skyler Howes, Nacho Cornejo, Adrien van Beveren and Tosha Schareina the new CRF450 Rally to tackle what Dakar director David Castera labels as the toughest edition of this gruelling event in Saudi Arabia.
Together with Taichi Honda, Sasaki-san joined the team in 2013 as Honda returned to the challenge of the desert with a factory team. Since then, he has attended every Dakar so knows well what makes a winning bike. And yosho is exactly how the new CRF450 Rally has started out in the latest Dakar, with victory for Tosha in the event-opening Prologue Stage, three stage wins for Nacho, one for Pablo on Stage 3 and Adrien has also notched up two.
The time line
Takashi Sasaki, Honda CRF450 Rally project leader: “We had lost the last two editions of the Dakar Rally, so it was clear that we had to make some changes. The idea to build a new bike was in the air and finally last April around 20 engineers in the Honda HRC R&D Department in Japan started to work on the project from scratch. They worked hard and the machine with the new spec touched the ground on July 14. The first test was carried out in Japan, and we were satisfied. The performance was quite close to our target so we continued with the development and end of July we did a durability test in Japan. A session with all the Monster Energy Honda riders followed in California. They were all satisfied, so we continued to work on some details and focused on more durability test. All in all, we covered more than the distance of the race in even more extreme conditions.”
The philosophy behind the bike
“We had two guidelines: a lighter and more powerful machine in the dunes. Thanks to the long experience gained in eleven participations in recent history, we kept the hard pack performance and all the good points, improving the weak points. The weight balance of the old machine was a bit critical in the dunes. We re-designed the chassis for a lighter weight bike which was also the riders’ request.”
The winning formula
“I think we met the target. A light bike is always an advantage in the sand as well on the sharp and massive rocks that we meet here in Saudi. Just to give an idea, we reduced around 8% of the weight and increased the bottom-mid power by around 5%. In terms of top speed, the limit allowed by the rules remain 160 km/h. So the acceleration is really good.”
“What we understood already from the first edition since we re-entered Dakar was the necessity to simplify the CRF450 Rally, so the evolution was from sophistication to a greater simplicity. This philosophy applies also to the 2024 bike. The other important point is durability. This is crucial on the Dakar where racers and machines are exposed to the most extreme conditions in terms of terrain and temperatures.”
Simplicity is key
“The off-road department can have access to the innovations introduced in MotoGP. The airflow dynamics, for example, was taken from MotoGP, but all in all on rally raids we aim at simplifying the machine.”
The next generation bike – the riders’ perspective
The comments of the six Monster Energy Honda Team racers are unanimous: the 2024 CRF450 Rally can mark a return to winning ways.
“HRC is always improving and making things better: the new CRF450 Rally is faster and easier to ride on the sand. The development was good and there has been a lot of hard work,” explained Ricky Brabec. “In a way it was necessary to make a new one because every year the race pace on the Dakar is faster. Imagine flat out on a motocross machine for 400kms. It’s insane.”
“The new bike is really impressive. Usually with a new bike you need to work a lot at the development but this bike, amazingly, is new and ready. When I used it for the first time, I had to do only some suspension adjustments and it was so fast straight out of the box” commented Skyler Howes.
“The chassis and the suspension make the bike comfortable to ride. It’s powerful and stable at the same time, and this gives me a lot of confidence” added Pablo Quintanilla.
As the 2024 version of the famous rally continues at full speed, the new CRF450 Rally has already re-established itself as the bike to beat in the early stages. In the Dakar, you take nothing for granted, but with all the hard work of Honda and HRC the Monster Energy Honda Team have all the ingredients for success once again.