American rider Andrew Short and Botswanan rider Ross Branch have both signed with the Monster Energy Yamaha Rally Official Team.

This means that both Short and Branch will be riding for Yamaha not just at Dakar, but also at other FIM Cross-Country Rallies events. They were supposed to start with the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, but that event was postponed due to the COVID-19 outbreak,

Short and Branch were set to make their competitive debut for the Monster Energy Yamaha Rally Official Team at the season-starting Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge later this month. As that event has been postponed over COVID-19 coronavirus fears, they’re now hoping to start the season with Rally Kazakhstan, which runs May 24-29.

It’s a big switch for the two riders. Branch rode for the Bas Dakar satellite team during this year’s Dakar rally, using KTM machinery, and Andrew Short rode for the Husqvarna factory team, also using thinly-disguised KTM machinery. Moving over to Yamaha means both riders will be much higher in the pecking order of their respective organizations, but Yamaha’s machinery has not been known for the same reliability as KTM in recent years.

However, if anyone can make it work, it’s these two guys. Branch pushed on through injuries to finish this year (including a stage win and four other top-10 finishes), and Short also put in a gritty effort, proving he was both a team player (he donated his rear tire to KTM’s Toby Price during Stage 6) and that he had enough speed to challenge for a podium.

Both riders had the usual “We’re excited to sign with Yamaha, etc., etc.,” quotes in Yamaha’s press release, and Alexandre Kowalski, Yamaha Europe’s Off-Road Racing Manager had this quote:

“Everyone involved in the Monster Energy Yamaha Rally Official Team is extremely pleased to be welcoming both Andrew and Ross, two top riders that we are sure will deliver great results. They come from different continents and have very different riding backgrounds, but they both want to achieve more in rally and are full of energy and enthusiasm. We saw at this year’s Dakar Rally that both riders were able to adapt to the event’s terrain, which was hugely important. Together with the team’s existing riders, we all look forward to working together and enjoying many great achievements together.”

No kidding. No slight on the current Yamaha riders, who’ve certainly pushed on in the face of a lot of adversity, but the team has had sad-sack efforts for a couple of years now. Bringing in some new blood might really shake things up for Dakar in 2021.

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