Matthias Walkner, Toby Price, Sam Sunderland and Luciano Benavides head the KTM Rally Team attack in final preparations for the 2019 Dakar Rally in Peru.
With one final test in Abu Dhabi on the cards, the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing riders and team are all set for the 41st Dakar, this year raced entirely in Peru.
The exceptionally strong KTM team includes three previous Dakar winners who will fight for the Austrian manufacturer’s 18th consecutive victory at Dakar. Supported riders Laia Sanz and Mario Patrao
Following an incredible season, that saw Matthias Walkner crowned 2018 Dakar Rally Champion and Toby Price crowned FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Champion, the focus has now switched firmly back to the Dakar and the 2019 event that kicks off on January 6.
As 2018 Dakar champion, Matthias Walkner will head to Peru with the number one plate on his bike. Despite a tricky start to this year’s world championship campaign, Walkner soon found his rhythm onboard his KTM 450 RALLY. Strong finishes at the final few rounds of the season, including runner-up results at the Desafio Inka and Rallye du Maroc, showed that the Austrian rider is on form and ready to take on the Dakar once more.
Matthias Walkner: “I’m looking forward to getting back on the bike in Peru and racing to defend my title. There is a little bit of added pressure for me but my plan is exactly the same as always – stay safe and do my best at the event.
“It’s difficult to know how things will be with the race held in just one country and with so much of it in the sand. Strategy will be very important as your start position for the day can make a huge difference to the results.
“I believe it will be very close with a lot of guys fighting for the win, but if everything goes to plan and I can keep to a consistent pace, I would hope for at least another podium finish.”
Having accepted his official 2018 FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship medal in Andorra at the weekend, Toby Price will arrive at Dakar in strong form. Like his teammate, Price started his 2018 season with mixed results but a late charge took the Australian to victory at the final round in Morocco and with it he secured his first ever world championship. The 2016 Dakar champion aims to carry that form into Peru and the fast-approaching 2019 event.
Toby Price: “2018 has been an incredible year for me. Finishing the Dakar on the podium in third after only just coming back from injury was great. The world championship didn’t start quite like I would have hoped, but I was able to keep my head together, stay consistent and the results finally came. Everything clicked in Morocco at that final round and I’m hoping for something similar in Peru.
“It’s going to be a bit of a strange Dakar, the route looks like about 70 percent is in the dunes and it’s going to be a real challenge, certainly no time to relax. In the past there have been days where you can pace yourself and still get a good result by concentrating on navigation and riding smooth – on this one I think it’s going to be flat-out from the very beginning.”
Forced to retire from the 2018 Dakar due to injury, Sam Sunderland was subsequently fighting for the win at the first rounds of the world championship when a further injury caused him to miss races.
Regrouping for the final round in Morocco, and despite a tyre issue causing him to lose time early on, the British rider was impressive in the sand which will help in Peru at this year’s Dakar.
Sam Sunderland: “As we get closer to Dakar now, I’m feeling really good. I’m happy with how I am riding and confident in my navigation. I know this year in Peru it’s going to be very physically demanding, so I have been working very hard on my training to be in the best shape when the race starts in January.
“It’s definitely good for me that we have 10 days in the dunes. I love riding that sort of terrain and seem to have good pace there. Whether it will fall in my favour I don’t know. Anything can happen in rallies as we know and you can’t predict a race like Dakar.
“This year (2018) I did have a six-minute lead after Peru so that is encouraging, but the plan is the usual – take each day as it comes.”
Riding the full Red Bull liveried KTM 450 RALLY for the first time at Dakar 2019, Luciano Benavides is hoping to make up for his early departure from the 2018 event.
Luciano Benavides: “It’s an honour to ride with the Red Bull colours on the bike. It carries a lot of responsibility and some added pressure, especially as I am riding with three Dakar champions. But I will try my best to turn that into motivation to do well.
“My second goal is to finish inside the top-10. I know that will be tough and I think with the shorter rally in 2019 it will be even tougher, but I know I have the pace to do so.”
Joining the four-rider Red Bull KTM Factory Racing team in Peru will be Laia Sanz and Mario Patrao. The two KTM Factory Racing riders will both be gunning for strong results at the 2019 Dakar Rally. Sanz will be returning to competition proper following her recent fight with the Epstein Barr virus.
Starting January 6 in Lima, the 2019 Dakar Rally covers 10 full days of racing with one marathon stage and one rest day before the riders return to Lima for the finish on January 17. The total distance covered by the motorcycles will be 5,541 kilometres – 2,889 kilometres of which will be timed special stages.
Learn more about the 2019 Dakar routes in our guide.
Photo Credit: Sebas Romero
Jon PearsonEnduro21 Editor and Bike Testerjon.email@example.com