Yamaha: Dakar Rally Feature
Yamaha’s off-road history speaks for itself. One of the most-successful manufacturers in the early years of the Dakar Rally, Yamaha were the first winners of the iconic event in 1979 with Frenchman Cyril Neveu.
Years of Dakar innovation led to the release of the iconic XTZ750 Super Ténéré production model in 1989 and now, 20 years later Yamaha have released the latest incarnation of their adventure machine, the Ténéré 700.
To celebrate having Ténéré 700 participating in the Experience Adventure at Motorcycle Live, Yamaha will exhibit a collection of the machines that led to the inception of the original Ténéré 700 at this year’s show.
1982 XT550 – Serge Bacou
Yamaha were dominant in the early years of the Paris-Dakar. In the inaugural rally in 1979, they finished first and second with the XT500 and in 1980, Yamaha riders swept the first four positions in the race and what’s more, of the 25 motorcycles which finished, 11 were XT500s.
However, the trusty XT500 seemed to meet its match for the third running of the event in 1981 with BMW putting up a strong fight with a factory-backed effort. In response, Yamaha brought out the XT550 for 1982, which featured the unique Yamaha Dual Intake system, which used two progressively-linked carburettors for the best possible combination of fuel economy and performance. Both intake and exhaust flow are increased by the four-valve cylinder head.
1987 FZT900 – Serge Bacou
As the average speeds of the Paris-Dakar grew faster throughout the 1980s, Yamaha were forced to respond with larger capacity models, but despite the development of the hugely popular and competitive XT600 – they remained winless since the second edition in 1980.
By the mid-1980s, it became clear to Dakar Team Manager Jean Claude Olivier that Yamaha needed to look at multi-cylinder machinery if they were to return to the top.
The FZT900 is a factory special developed by Sonauto, the French Yamaha importer and Yamaha. With a 911cc engine developed from the 20-valve FZ750 road bike and a one-off chassis built specifically for the 1987 Dakar Rally, the FZT900 was one of the fastest dirt bikes built by Yamaha with a top speed of over 100mph.
Weighing in at just under 200kg, the FZT900 has a 45% front/55% rear weight distribution for optimal handing performance in the desert and produces 85bhp. Serge Bacou took it to a seventh-place finish in the Dakar Rally that year.
1991 YZE850T – Stéphane Peterhansel
Yamaha’s dry spell would end in 1991, more than 10 years after their last victory, when youngster Stéphane Peterhansel took the YZE850T to the top spot.
Based on the production XTZ750 Super Ténéré, the YZE850T was a twin-cylinder factory rally machine developed by Yamaha Motor France in association with the Yamaha Motor Company Racing Division.
YZE850T Ténéré riders took every spot on the podium and the bike’s success wouldn’t go on there, with Peterhansel going on to take three consecutive wins in what is widely regarded as the world’s toughest race.
Peterhansel would go on to become a Dakar legend, winning the event 13 times – with six of these wins coming in the motorcycle category in 1991, 1992, 1993, 1995, 1997 and 1998 before switching to four wheels and going on to twin seven more times.
YZE850T is one of Yamaha’s most successful ever rally machines, having taken a total of six Dakar wins in seven years.
WR450F 2-Trac 2WD – David Frétigné 2004
This is one of Yamaha’s more unique rally machines, featuring an ingenious two-wheel drive system developed by Ohlins for use on the Yamaha WR450F 2-Trac, the first Yamaha 2-wheel drive motorcycle.
Patented by Yamaha, the 2-Trac features a hydraulic drive system that powers the front wheel. Fluid is propelled by a chain-driven pump onto the gearbox and this is transmitted to a hydraulic motor located within the front wheel hub.
A key feature of the 2-Trac is that it is a self-regulating system, and the amount of power transmitted to the front wheel is directly proportional to the amount of rear wheel spin when the rear wheel loses traction. So the amount of power going to the front wheel is constantly changing to suit the conditions and the front wheel can never spin faster than the rear wheel.
TT600R 2-Trac 2WD
The Yamaha TT600R was one of the first models to be equipped with the company’s innovative 2-Trac 2WD system. Developed by Öhlins Racing AB in association with Yamaha Motor Company, the beauty of the 2-Trac design is that it is a totally automatic system with very few parts that adapts itself to the surface conditions.
The system features a hydraulic pump that is driven from the gear output shaft, and this delivers hydraulic pressure to the small motor built into the TT600R’s front hub. During normal riding the bike behaves conventionally, with power being supplied only to the rear wheel.
As soon as the rear wheel starts to slip in loose or wet conditions the 2-Trac system immediately delivers hydraulic pressure to the front wheel motor to give full 2WD that helps to ‘pull’ the motorcycle through the dirt or mud. The system is self-regulating, and the amount of power to the front wheel increases and decreases as the rear wheel slip increases and decreases.
The 2-Trac system delivers increased traction precisely when required, and when the front wheel is being driven the rider experiences a planted feeling through corners with greatly reduced rear wheel sliding.
This TT600R 2-Trac was raced in the Sardinia Rally by Italian Team Belgarda rider Antonio Colombo, winning its class and proving the potential of two-wheel drive.