For those interested in worlds toughest rally Honda has opened a special Dakar rally site so you can easily follow up on the progress with Honda entering the rally with a new factory bike. Lots of info to be found on the site.
CRF450 Rally is based on production CRF450X Enduro bike.
This is the bike with which Honda will take on the world's toughest motorsport event - the CRF450 Rally, on show for the first time at the 2012 Intermot motorcycle expo in Cologne, Germany.
The race, of course, is the 2013 Dakar Rally; but Honda is no stranger to Dakar. Hondas competed nine times in the original Paris-Dakar, starting in 1981. French rally-raid hero Cyril Neveu won it on a Honda in 1982, and Honda won four times in a row - from 1986 to 1989 - for an overall record of five victories in nine years.
The 2013 CRF450 Rally is based on Honda's commercial CRF450X enduro racer but also has Honda's PGM-FI electronic fuel-injection system, which Honda hopes will extend the bike's range due to better fuel-efficiency and make it more durable - unlikely though that sounds on the face of it.
The race-wining Honda's of the 1980's were purpose-built machines; with the CRF450 Rally they're aiming for a first Dakar win on a production-based bike.
American rider Johnny Campbell, who has won the Baja 1000 desert races no less than 11 times, will join the four riders already announced - Helder Rodrigues (Portugal), Felipe Zanol (Brazil), Sam Sunderland (Britain) and Argentinian Javier Pizzolito to complete a five-man Honda team.
Racing in the Dakar Rally is by means as simple as it looks; this is a rider's eye view of the special equipment you need for navigation.
The CRF450 Rally, currently under development, has already done a lot of testing in Japan, and will make its race debut in the Morocco Rally, starting on 14 October.
The five Dakar riders will ride in Morocco Rally mainly to gather data, identify any problems with the bike under actual race conditions, and pinpoint any operational issues - but that doesn't mean they'll be taking it easy.
The Dakar Rally, which is currently staged on the South American continent, was previously held on the African continent as the Paris to Dakar Rally (Paris-Dakar) from its first year in 1979 until 2008.
The founder of the Paris-Dakar was a Frenchman named Thierry Sabine who had raced in rallies in Africa. Sabine also raced in the first Paris-Dakar (called the “Oasis Rally” at the time) that he organized himself. Many participants of the early rallies were French, reflecting a national preference for long-distance endurance races.
At the time, racers in the Paris-Dakar left Paris, France on Christmas Day and covered 12,000 km (later extended) over approximately 20 days. Most of the course was set in harsh conditions including the uninhabitable Mauritanian desert and the Tenere Desert, which is barren in all directions for hundreds of kilometers.
As a result, more than half of the participants would retire from the rally and some racers even lost their lives. Sometimes they even had to cross politically unstable regions, which was the reason why the rally was, both in name and reality, “The World’s Toughest Motor Race” from its very beginning.
Eventually, the Paris-Dakar came to be known widely in Europe as a motor sport event that marked the beginning of the new year. Particularly in France, it became a popular event comparable to the World GP (currently known as the MotoGP) and the 24 Heures du Mans.
At the same time, an increasing number of automobile and motorcycle manufacturers around the world came to participate in the rally in order to promote the performance and presence of their products.
In the motorcycle Moto class, the Yamaha XT500 won two years in a row from the first rally, after which the BMW R80 claimed one victory. Honda made its first appearance in the third rally, held in 1981. At the request of Honda France, the XR500R (550cc) was entered into the rally with the help of the Asaka R&D Center (currently the Motorcycle R&D Center). Although it finished in 6th place that year, Honda achieved four consecutive victories from the next year, 1982.
It was French racer, Cyril Neveu, who drove this machine to victory. Neveu was also the leading rider for Yamaha’s two wins and was an outstanding presence in desert motorcycle riding.
However, even Neveu’s riding was no match for the production motorcycle entered by BMW the following year. The power of the 800cc flat-twin engine was far superior to the single cylinder engines that were mainstream at the time and, despite its weight, its body layout with a lower center of gravity also gave it an advantage.
BMW’s powerful lineup, which included Neveu’s rival, African-born Frenchman Hubert Auriol (disqualified for arriving too early in the second rally) and former World GP Motocross champion, Gaston Rahier, achieved the spectacular feat of three consecutive victories from the 5th to 7th rallies.
Thus, BMW realized an overwhelming winning percentage of four victories in the seven rallies up until 1985. In contrast, the Honda France Paris-Dakar team was simply unable to beat the BMW’s high-speed machine and also played second fiddle to the Cagiva’s machine with an L twin cylinder which made it first appearance in 1985.
In this way the Paris-Dakar entered into the high-speed age. While slightly heavier than single cylinders, twin cylinder machines could quickly reach maximum speed, leading to the evolution of high-speed racing. The rally itself also shifted from a competition mainly for amateur riders to battles between factory teams “going in for the win.”
Of course, Honda was the strongest contender for defeating BMW. At the compelling request of Honda France, the HRC Project Team was formed in the autumn of 1984 and, with the aim of “winning the 8th rally in 1986,” the development of a machine exclusively for the Paris-Dakar was initiated.
The development team mustered up the best and the brightest talents with experience in road, motocross, endurance and dirt track racing. It could be said that with their visit to the 7th rally in 1985, Honda got a true picture of the Paris-Dakar for the first time.
With driving conditions including desert, rocky stretches, loose gravel dirt, savannah and paved roads, temperatures ranged from below freezing point to 50℃. The longest driving distance per day was 800 km in SS (competition section) with additional distances in the liaison route (untimed section). In most cases, gasoline contained dirt and impurities with unstable octane value.
The development team could not hide their surprise at the reality of the highly demanding conditions for which they had to deliver the highest performance as well as durability and serviceability. The requirements for (or the concept behind) a machine that could aim to win under these conditions were as follows.
1) Light-weight and compact (affect all elements including driving performance, rider’s fatigue and durability)
2) Maximum speed of 180 km/h (cruising speed of approximately 150 km/h)
3) Does not fatigue riders (riders demand for flat output characteristics in particular)
4) Does not break down (machine trouble can be life-threatening to riders)
5) Good serviceability (ideally no maintenance needed)
6) Focus on high-speed stability (high-speed cruising in the desert is critical to win)
7) Fuel efficient (Target is 9.1 km/L at the time of design. As a rule, 450 km without refueling (+ 20%))
8) Concentrated mass (concentrated as close to the vehicle’s center of gravity as possible)
Specifically, it was demanded that the engine have flat output characteristics of 3,000-8,000 rpm with high-power and torque with minimum durability of 4,000 km (at the time, a total of three engines could be used.) As a result, the V twin engine with V-bank 45-degree angle and 90-degree angle crankshaft was selected.
This layout can cancel primary vibration, and has an advantage in ease of use, rider’s fatigue, and durability. The concept was based on the expertise gained from the dirt track-specialized machine RS750D V twin engine (same specifications), which was developed slightly earlier.
Moreover, the engine was as slim as a single cylinder engine, leading to advantages in the body layout as well. In order to exploit these characteristics, a unique design was adopted for the machine specialized for the Paris-Dakar. This involved the combination of a needle roller bearing with the monolithic crankshaft to minimize side width.
A connecting rod with a partitioned large end is used for the monolithic crankshaft. Normally, plain metal is used for this section. This is because the bolted part tends to lose precision (roundness) in the assembled area.
However, if one is hoping to use a machine in the Paris-Dakar, it is best to use needle roller bearing, which is strong against momentary oil shortage caused by body inclination and entry of dust.
As this requires that roundness of the large end be secured, the so-called fracture split connecting rod (monolithic molded connecting rod is split apart) was used, making precision in the assembled area possible (this was used in entries after the NR500). As a result, engine oil capacity itself was also able to be controlled.
The water-cooling SOHC4 bulb and V-type twin cylinder engine that was finally completed had bore/stroke of 83 × 72 mm = 779.1 cc and maximum output of approximately 70ps/7000 rpm. The body that this was fitted to was also of a novel and creative structure.
It could be said that the now universal large cowling and big tanks of big off-road models were embodied in this machine for the first time.
The giant split fuel tanks on the left and right were installed down to the sides of the engine in order to lower the machine’s center of gravity. The monocoque below the sheet was also utilized for a gas tank, securing a total capacity of 59 L.
Each of these three tanks had independent oil feeding systems, so the motorcycle could still run even if one tank was experiencing trouble. The tank under the sheet was a rubber Gas Pack and the left and right tanks were made from Kevlar (aramid resin) on the outer sides, which also offered protection from damage or fuel leakage caused by falls.
Apart from this, the machine had an extremely orthodox structure with a steel pipe frame, stroke 280 mm front fork and rear Pro-Line, kick and cell starter and chain drive (large jumps were impossible with a shaft drive), which secured superior serviceability while thoroughly eliminating risks.
The machine, which was based on reliability and ease-of-use rather than extremely-tuned driving performance, showed that it had been completed in line with its concept in the local test runs in the Tenere Desert and other areas. It was named the NXR (the French called it the “neuksar”) and sent to France in order to appear at the 8th Paris-Dakar in 1986 as planned.
Shortly after that, the spare engine in Japan suddenly experienced a problem, with the stud bolts being blown off. The crank case had been made of magnesium alloy in order to reduce weight and it appeared that the parts where the bolts were mounted were not strong enough.
A new aluminum alloy crank case was hurriedly built and flown over to France. This turned out to be the only instance of unanticipated trouble.
Many factory machines participated in the 8th rally in 1986, with entries of the BMW factory R80GS (1040 cc) and the Cagiva Elefant with L twin engine. Yamaha offered a conventional 660 cc 2-cylinder machine and a monster machine, the FZ750 Tenere, with a 4-cylinder engine and maximum speed of 200 km/h.
Although the NXR was not as powerful as its competitors and somewhat disadvantageous for high-speed cruising, it had excellent high-speed stability and total driving performance. The NXR was able to complete the approximately 15,000 km, rally―which has been called the toughest rally in the history of Paris-Dakar―with almost no trouble.
As a result, Neveu was victorious, followed by Gill Lalay also riding the NXR and Andrea Balestrieri, riding a modified XL600, leading to Honda achieving a trifecta finish of first, second and third places. This perfect race gave the NXR the name of “Desert Revolution” and after its victory, the Paris-Dakar became more and more tough and extreme.
Each factory had back up riders supporting main riders (usually a three-car system) and the mechanics with the parts for the factory machines followed after the groups in automobiles and trucks. They later turned into “armored divisions” that sent manpower and resources by air to the next base camp.
A good example of the extremity of the rally was the 9th Paris-Dakar in 1987, in which Neveu on the NXR and Auriol on the Cagiva engaged in a head-to-head match. The two riders, who had been rivals from the first rally, fought hard for the top place right up until the second last day of the race.
Honda and Neveu’s second consecutive win was determined when Auriol hit a tree stump and broke both legs (Auriol announced his retirement from racing after managing to make it to the finish line by himself).
At the 10th rally in 1988, a fierce charge was made by rivals aiming to overthrow the NXR. Suzuki newly entered as a factory team and Rayet, who had moved from BMW, rode the new DR-Z800.
Yamaha introduced the “pure” production machine, the YZE750, manufactured by the Motor Sports Development Division. Like the NXR it focused on total balance and had a compact water-cooling DOHC 5 valve 750cc single-cylinder engine.
In response to its rivals’ efforts, Honda then entered a total of seven NXR machines, with a three-vehicle team by Honda Italy and one privately supported vehicle in addition to the three machines that comprised the Honda France team. However, Franco Picco on Yamaha’s new machine was a formidable enemy blocking their path and forced the team into its most difficult battle yet.
Picco, who led the rally in the early stages, was extending his lead. Behind him, Neveu, who had been considered the favorite, took several falls and finally retired after hitting a rock face in the middle of the rally and breaking his leg.
Meanwhile, Edi Orioli, who made his first appearance as an NXR rider that year, pursued Picco, but the gap between them only widened. This changed however, when Picco lost a significant amount of time searching for a false-check point which was placed on the map by the organizer’s mistake.
While Picco was fervently searching for the checkpoint, Orioli took the lead. Picco engaged in fierce pursuit as he still had a chance to come from behind. But on the final day, the rally was shortened, allowing Orioli a successful getaway. This was the third victory for the NXR. It was, in fact, a “survival race,” with only 34 of the 206 entries completing the course.
At the 11th rally in 1989, Yamaha made improvements to the YZE in order to avenge its previous year’s loss. The NXR also evolved, undergoing power and maneuverability improvements and this led to a neck-and-neck struggle between the NXR and the YZE.
Lalay, on the NXR, was pursued by Picco, on the YZE. This year, there were no operational problems or serious accidents and it was an extremely smoothly-run race. Therefore, the contest between the two machines was a genuine match of ability. Lalay was able to escape to a win by a mere 54 minutes, a “narrow margin” by Paris-Dakar standards.
Honda’s record of four consecutive victories stood in line with Peugeot’s world record of four consecutive automobile wins until Yamaha also claimed four consecutive victories from 1995 to 1998. After its fourth victory, Honda concluded its factory team activities in the Paris-Dakar.
While changing how machines were made for the Paris-Dakar, the undefeated NXR carved its place in history as an “unsinkable battleship,” like the RCB racer active in endurance races in the 1970’s.
The NXR V twin engine continued to be used and was hardly changed from its initial design. We are proud of this engine for revolutionizing the racing world along with the RS750D dirt track machine engine.
The Africa Twin NXR replica model was released for sale directly after this and used by privateers in many rally raids including the Paris-Dakar. This is how the “Desert Revolution,” that occurred 23 years ago, came to fruition.