One of the most prestigious offroad race teams in motorcycling history is closing down—at least, it’s pulling out of all the races that matter. Yamaha Motor Europe is pulling its factory rally raid team out of the Dakar rally, as well as the FIM Cross Country Rallies series.
The move will end Yamaha’s unbroken streak of Dakar participation; the company has raced the legendary rally since it began, with no years off. No other factory team has done so.
Historically, Yamaha was one of the most successful teams in the early years at Dakar. The first Yamaha to win the championship was Cyril Neveu, who took the inaugural 1979 title and repeated the feat in 1980. Edi Orioli won on a factory Dakar in 1997. Stephane Peterhansel won six races aboard a Yamaha through the 1990s, before moving to the car championship.
But, Peterhansel’s 1998 championship is the last time Yamaha won at Dakar; Yamaha hasn’t even been on the podium since 2013, when Olivier Pain finished third overall. In the past few years, Yamaha’s riders have occasionally taken the lead, but a mechanical failure or navigation error or other bad luck always ruins their chances. In 2022, the top-placing Yamaha was fourth-place Adrien Van Beveren; in 2021, none of the factory riders even finished the race, and most of the team was taken out by mechanical errors, while competing teams finished the race with no problems.
In the FIM Cross Country Rallies series, where most events are much shorter than the two-week Dakar, Yamaha has done better. But, it’s not good enough to keep Yamaha Motor Europe interested in funding the team. Since Yamaha’s Dakar squad was funded by the Euro subsidiary, not the Japanese mother-corp, it’s been low on cash for years, when compared to Honda and KTM’s factory teams. Now, the cash is being shut off completely.
No doubt it’s a tough time for the team’s fans and staff. Ross Branch, Andrew Short and Adrien Van Beveren are all talented riders, but given the tight nature of the top Dakar teams, they may find it difficult to locate gainful employment on another brand’s bikes. Given the ties between Yamaha and Fantic, perhaps they’d consider moving over to that newly-established team, but it’s hard to imagine Fantic having enough budget for a proper effort.
As for the Dakar Rally, it’s basically a battle between Honda and KTM/Husqvarna/GasGas now, and that really makes it a showdown between only two companies. If Honda ever pulls out of the race (as is rumoured every winter), then the Dakar will effectively become a spec series, as no other team on Euro or Asian bikes can challenge Team Orange/White/Red at this point.