Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s Toby Price, Sam Sunderland and Matthias Walkner, together with factory teammate Laia Sanz on Tuesday launched their attack on the Atacama Rally in the Chilean desert. Price finished a close second behind leader Pablo Quintanilla to be the team’s most successful rider on the first of five days of tough riding.
Toby Price, the 2016 Dakar Rally winner, was fifth in Monday’s prologue but took a gamble and decided to start at the back of the field in what was clearly going to be a dusk-choked Atacama, renowned for being the world’s driest region.
Price: “It was not a bad start to the Atacama Rally to be sitting in second, just 1:13 min off the lead. Starting last may not have been the best idea but we kind of made it work. I thought the wind would pick up and blow a lot of the dust off the track but it just didn’t happen. It was a risk I wanted to try because I have nothing to loose in the championship! Always learning and onto the next day.”
Price picked up an injury at the Sealine Rally, the second round of the FIM World Cross Country Rallies Championship, and is currently fourth in the points with this, and one round to go.
It was the factory team’s Matthias Walkner of Austria who came in as the next KTM rider at sixth. Walkner makes a welcome return to racing after a very long injury break and handled a difficult situation well in his first outing, saying he was not particular fast, but also not as slow as he expected in his return ride.
Walkner: “Today was quite okay up to 150km, even though I expected to pick up a few minutes. Then I got stuck behind a big vehicle on a dirt road and for 15km I had no chance to get past him. I thought I had already seen everything but I had never seen dust like this. For this 15km I could only go at half speed and this took me out of my rhythm a bit. It was very hard to see because the goggles got so scratched form the dust. On the whole, I’m satisfied. I didn’t risk anything.”
British teammate Sam Sunderland and the current championship point leader also had a mixed day and although, as a Dubai based rider, he is perhaps the best prepared for the sands and dunes around Antofagasta, he lost 18 minutes in the stage and has some work to do to make up the deficit.
Sunderland: “I tipped over behind a quad in the fesh-fesh at kilometer 20 and that set me up for a day of torture. I sat in the dust the rest of the day. I wasn’t willing to take big risks and go out of the tracks into the off piste to pass the slower guys and this cost me a lot of time. But I’m here and healthy and tomorrow is another day.”
Laia Sanz, the factory team’s sole woman competitor finished fifteenth and also confirmed it had been a tough day where she finished almost 33 minutes off the pace.
Sanz: “It was a hard day starting from the back, and being in the dust of the other riders, I needed 100km before I could overtake them. It was just impossible, but better stages will follow.”
On Wednesday riders have their longest stage with a timed special of a 468.95km.
Results/Standings Atacama Rally 2016 after Stage 1 of 5
1. Pablo Quintanilla (CHI), Husqvarna, 2:14:56 h
2. Toby Price (AUS), KTM, +1:13 min
3. Paolo Goncalves (POR), Honda, +2:50
4. Kevin Benavides (ARG), Honda, +4:19
5. Ricky Brabec (USA), Honda, +5:38
6. Matthias Walkner (AUT), KTM, +12:28
9. Sam Sunderland (GBR), KTM, +18:01
15. Laia Sanz (ESP), KTM, +32:41