The Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme, or FIM for short, agreed the measures with the ASO (Dakar organisers) and several race teams, in an effort to reduce the number of accidents in the race.
In what was its inaugural Saudi Arabian edition, the rally raid saw a high number of serious crashes, with Portuguese rally veteran Paulo Goncalves and 2019 Malle Moto winner Edwin Straver sadly dying as a result of separate incidents.
The factory teams were affected too, with two of Yamaha’s top riders, Adrien Van Beveren and Xavier De Soultrait crashing out of the rally early on. Equally, KTM, who has dominated the event for the past 18 years, saw 2017 British winner Sam Sunderland withdraw due to a crash injury on stage 5.
New roadbook rules introduced at this year’s event, which took place from the January 5th to the 17th, were controversial at the time and have been retrospectively blamed for many crashes. Whereas previously, pilots were issued their roadbooks the night before the stage, in order to familiarise themselves with the route, on some stages this year pre-coloured books were issued just minutes before the stage. The idea behind this was not only to return to the Rally’s adventurous roots, but also an attempt to slow the pace down, forcing competitors to pay more attention to the roadbook.
Several riders expressed their concerns at the time, with KTM’s 2018 Dakar champion Matthias Walkner commenting: “They want to make the rally difficult, but maybe this was a bit too far. You need to spend so much time looking at the roadbook and this means that in all the sand you can miss a big stone.”
Other factors identified as potentially contributing to accidents included fatigue, dehydration and overheating, speeding and over-confidence, distraction, limited visibility of obstacle, navigational error and roadbook inaccuracy.
As a result, a number of proposals were put forward in an effort to improve safety across the whole FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship.
The first suggests that all courses at FIM championship events will be designed with the collaboration of a former motorcycle rider. A ‘course inspector’ team will also be appointed and tasked with developing the roadbook for so that all riders/teams have the same information and an accurate understanding of the difficulty of the course.
Meanwhile, a new one-size-fits-all instrument tower is currently in development, which when finished will offer riders more visual and audio signals, as well as a featuring a more compact design so as to avoid injuries.
And in order to reduce the overall speed of the rallies, the FIM called for ‘more variation of the styles of course in order to have lower average speeds’. This would likely mean fewer fast ‘pistes’ (gravel tracks), where riders regularly reach speeds in excess of 100mph.
In terms of machine regulations, air intake restrictors, similarly to those seen in the FIM 300 World Superbike Championship, will likely become compulsory in order to reduce engine power and speed.
Finally, as was seen in the MotoGP series recently, airbags will likely soon become compulsory for all riders, potentially as early as 2021.
FIM President Jorge Viegas said: “Reducing the number of accidents in Rally is a priority for the FIM, especially in the Dakar Rally. We will test solutions from the start of this season and we will make a plan at the end of the season to adjust as necessary. The participation of ASO, KTM, Husqvarna, Hero, Honda, Yamaha and also the riders Sam Sunderland and Adrien Van Beveren allowed us to work hand in hand to take up this challenge to ensure the sustainability of this spectacular and unique championship.”