The third round of the FIM Cross Country Rally World Championship on the island of Sardegna took place over five days of special stages covering a total of 1600km with over 800km of special stages. The route took the 74 competitors from Alghero to Arborea, Chia and Sa Itria before finishing in San Teodoro.
Having announced the new partnership with Yamaha just last week, Despres used the rally to get to grips with the YZ450F based machine and get used to racing again having not competed since the Dakar in January. Despres was quick to show the potential of the Yamaha in Sardegna, completing the first day of the five-day competition in second position, just 55 seconds behind the leader. Botturi was also on the pace, riding a standard WR450F with only minor modifications to suspension, fuel tank and exhaust, he finished the day in third overall behind Despres and just over a minute from the leader. The second day of two special stages saw strong performances again from the Yamaha pair with Botturi leading overall and Despres in third just 58 seconds behind.
The second stage of the third day saw both Yamaha riders overcome a time loss after a mix up at an assistance point. Despite the setback Despres fought back to complete the day second overall with Botturi again behind in third. Botturi shone on day four, making up for lost time on the first stage the Italian was a potential stage winner until running out of fuel metres from the finish line. He made up for it by winning the second stage of the day. Despres was unfortunate to fall on the fourth day and bang his head but was able to continue, losing some time but holding third position overall.
Botturi saved the best for last, taking his Yamaha WR450F to the top of the final day’s standings with a lead of 1’22 seconds to secure fifth overall in the Rally. Despres was just over two minutes behind in fourth position, confirming fourth overall, just 11 seconds off third place on the podium. Italian Yamaha rider Andrea Mancini finished the final day in fifth position, making it three Yamahas in the top five standings.
“To be perfectly honest I was a little bit surprised to have finished second on the first day after just one day’s competition aboard my new Yamaha– it certainly wasn’t on the programme! My priority was just to get a feel for the bike and get used to racing again after not having ridden a bike in anger since January. Of course I’m a racer at heart and so never happier than when competing and then there was the pleasure of discovering the YZ450F.
Of course I am disappointed to have missed the final podium by just 11 seconds but over five days that’s nothing, a couple of micro-errors of navigation. But as they say in this game, ‘that’s rally-raid’, there are always plenty of ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’. At least I can console myself with the knowledge that I didn’t make many mistakes yesterday and was able to fight hard all the way to the end. For me the rally was lost a couple of days ago and here, once you have given away time, it’s very hard to pull it back again. Looking at the bigger picture, the really positive aspect of these last five days has been how good I have felt on my new bike. I’d only done a few practice hours on the Yamaha YZ450F before coming here but now I have a much better understanding of how the machine functions and coming away from Sardegna my impressions are extremely positive. Obviously there is plenty of work still left to do on our Dakar bike but both the Yamaha’s engine and chassis are really strong and those are the essential ingredients of any bike. Now we will go back to France and start getting ready for next month’s Rally dos Sertoes which is an event much closer, both geographically and in format, to the Dakar and therefore a much more useful open-air laboratory.”
“I am satisfied, I did all I could, I cannot complain for anything or ‘give blame to bad luck’. The final day was especially a good day; I expressed myself during the race and those who wanted have seen it. At the end I was pushing a lot, and a slide with such a pace can happen. Congratulations to the winners, Marc, Paul and Joan, who earned their successes. I raced this Rally thanks to the team GB Spare parts, the extraordinary mechanical and strategist Franco Picco and Yamaha Italy who made the WR450F available. I still have something to complete here, and next year I will be here to settle.”