During the 40 editions of the Dakar Rally, the world's most prestigious rally event has always been synonymous with amateur participation - the 'give it a go' racers who pour their heart and soul into the event, taking on its many and varied challenges. One such privateer is Japan's Shinnosuke 'Shaun' Kazama.
Entering his second Dakar Rally on a Yamaha WR450F Rally Replica machine, the Yamaha Motor supported rider has successfully made it to the rest day placed 55th in the provisional overall standings.
As the race enters its final and likely most demanding phase, we caught up with the 33-year-old Tokyo native during the event's rest day in La Paz, Bolivia.
Shaun, how does it feel to be back racing the Dakar after a successful first outing in 2017?
Shaun Kazama: "It feels awesome to be back. Following my first attempt last year, I was really looking forward to the 40th edition of the event this year. The Dakar is such a huge adventure for all of us and it is an honour for every racer to be part of it.”
What is your racing background and what made you take the decision to come race the Dakar?
"I've been riding motorcycles ever since I was a kid and I also was a professional motocross racer for 10 years in Japan. A few years ago I had an accident and broke my back, so I decided to step away from the sport for some time and focus on my career as an actor in my home country. The Dakar might not be as famous in Japan as it is in France, but for me it has always been a dream to race it. My father (Shinji Kazama) was the first Japanese rider to finish the Dakar and that was even before I was born. But the spirit of adventure and the passion for Dakar have always been part of our lives.”
Photo Credit: PhotosDakar.com
Following your experience last year, what made you opt to race the 2018 Dakar on the WR450F Rally Replica?
"For me the WR450F Rally Replica, together with the support offered by the DRAG'ON team, are one of the most complete and easily accessible solutions if you want to race the Dakar. Based on the production WR450F enduro, our bike is mostly standard. It has a full rally kit with bigger fuel tanks and a navigation tower, a longer swingarm for added stability in high-speed sections and a new piston for some added power. The guys from Yamaha have made an exceptional rally racer out of the standard WR450F. The bike feels incredibly stable and predictable. Especially in the tough dune stages of Peru, I always felt in control of my riding. For such a long event it's crucial to be both fast and also make sure you avoid crashing by any means. I really like the bike, it's so good in any kind of terrain.”
Less than a week into the 2018 Dakar and you've already experienced some long and tough days of racing. What's your personal goals this year?
"My main goal is to reach the finish line in Córdoba and it would be great if I could be inside the top 50 in the final standings. The depth of the field in this race is just stunning. All the way down to the top 80 or maybe even the top 100 in the overall there are former enduro and motocross champions with many years of experience in racing bikes. So far this year we've been through some epic landscapes. I couldn't believe the dunes of Peru could be so massive. It's been a great experience and I am glad to live it on my bike.”
Entering what's possibly going to be an even harder second week of competition, what's your plan of attack for the coming eight stages of the Dakar?
"The plan is simple, I want to keep pushing for the top 50 while making sure that I stay on two wheels and take care of my body. It might sound simple but it's not, especially with two long marathon stages coming up. I'll sure be missing my mechanic from the DRAG'ON team during these two marathon stages, but this is all part of the game. If everything goes well I want to reach Córdoba in the highest overall position possible."
Interview: Yamaha Europe