Mason Klein: “I may not have made it to the finish line, but I definitely had a good ride”

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Credit: Charly Lopez/ASO

Mason Klein‘s maiden Dakar Rally with Kove Moto might not have gone the way he hoped, but is a story that will last a lifetime.

Whether Klein would even race the Dakar in 2024 was an uncertainty for much of the fall. Despite being the 2022 World Rally-Raid Champion in Rally2 and showcasing himself at the 2023 Dakar Rally, he was dropped by KTM midseason for a lack of funding and struggled to find a new home. Kove, a Chinese manufacturer who was running their maiden rally raid season, signed him for the 2024 race with an arrangement that granted him factory-level access to their resources and crews despite not formally being a factory rider. As such, he was technically still a privateer competing under his Klein Off-Road Racing Team banner and rode a green EffectiveSoft-sponsored bike in contrast to his new colleagues.

Said bike, the new Kove 450 Rally EX, almost didn’t make it to Al-‘Ula in time for the race as it was ensnared by customs in the neighbouring United Arab Emirates. The Kove team launched quite literally a midnight ride across Saudi Arabia to pick up the bike and bring it back to the bivouac, getting it set up with just thirty minutes before final technical inspection concluded.

“It has been quite a ride,” began a post from Klein. “From the planning stage until today I have given it my all. I wasn’t sure if I would make it this year, but with the help of my family, friends and sponsors that believed in me, I was able to get to the start line. Kove stood up and gave me a Gen 2 bike. I knew what I was signing up for, a virtually untested, fresh off the production line bike. I was excited to be a part of the R&D process. The moment I got my hands on the bike, my team and I did our best to prepare it. I have faith in the bike’s future, the company, and their plans for its future in Rally.”

Despite the chaotic start and his entry being the first time Kove even raced in the top-level RallyGP class, Klein quickly stood out when he finished tenth in the Prologue. From there, he turned even more heads with a tenth in Stage #1, just twenty-five seconds behind current Dakar leader Ricky Brabec.

Then the trouble began. He lost nearly three hours of time in Stage #2 when the oil line ruptured forty-six kilometres into the leg; after reconnecting it via wire did not work, he had to wait until his Kove team-mate Sunier showed up and offered his oil line. The team attributed the issue to not having much development in warmer conditions, having only unveiled it in November followed by testing in cooler weather in Dubai.

A new hose made of braided metal was installed for the third day. However, he was not out of the woods yet. After dominating much of Stage #3, a rock punctured the shifter and ripped the chain off his bike, bringing him to a standstill once again as he tried to preserve the engine. Klein eventually reached the bivouac at almost 9 PM after hours of trying to get it to move again. Kove boss Zhang Xue described his efforts as making him “like a god in my heart. What kind of fortitude does it take to fix an engine by yourself after parking it for six hours and then continue on your way?”

He rejoined the race for Stage #4, and appeared to be back in business when he placed fifth the following day. Unfortunately, the 48-hour Chrono Stage delivered the death blow when the rectifier failed the morning of the second day from a lack of coolant and excessive heat. Rally2 rider Harith Noah, twice reigning Dakar car champion Nasser Al-Attiyah, and Guerlain Chicherit all attempted to help him re-fire the bike and push him along, to no avail.

“I feel like the outcome of this race would have been different if I just had a bit more time with this bike,” he commented. “I may not have made it to the finish line, but I definitely had a good ride. Dakar is the greatest race in the world. I’ve shown up, showed you what I can do and look forward to doing it again next year. I’ve learned a ton. It takes enormous effort and the support of too many people to list, but I will try to do it below. You know who you are. I believe I will win this race one day, but for now I am 100% happy because I gave it my all.”

Although he retired from the Dakar for the second year in a row, his almost Herculean undertakings won the respect and hearts of fans. Chinese fans on social media called him “our little baby” and remarked “our hearts were broken today” by his retirement.

While he has not confirmed his post-Dakar plans, Klein is open to continuing with Kove. A run in China is also not out of the question provided he can get his travel visa; the country hosts the Taklimakan Rally, and Kove fielded six bikes at the 2023 edition. It wouldn’t be Klein’s first time entering major rally raids outside of the world championship either, having won the 2023 Rally dos Sertões in Brazil on début.

“Nobody knows what the plan is, right? I really like the bike,” Klein concluded. “It would be really nice to come back on the bike and do something cool. No one knows but I think everybody has some big ideas. The bike has huge potential. Let’s just see. It’s a matter of time.”

The team is in the second phase of Zhang’s five-year plan: finish in Year 1 (success), top twenty in Year 2, top ten in Year 3, podium in Year 4, and victory in Year 5. Although none of their Rally2 riders are currently in the top twenty due to mechanical troubles pervading them as well, Zhang regarded Klein’s run as checking off that box and said he is “very, very confident” in achieving the next steps.

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Justin is not an off-road racer, but he writes about it for The Checkered Flag.
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