The Atacama Rally, run in the notoriously dry Chilean desert of the same name was the scene this week of an epic fight for victory between Red Bull KTM’s Dakar 2016 winner Toby Price of Australia, and his rival Pablo Quintanilla. After five days of battling over everything from lightning fast and very hard desert piste to soft sand dunes, Price had to settle for second overall by just 29 seconds. Third place went to Kevin Benavides of Argentina.
Right from the opening stage it was clear that both Toby Price and Pablo Quintanilla were going to play a major part in the Chilean rally, but it was also determined that the contest was going to be close. In fact as the rally unfolded they were separated by only a few minutes, and on some days, even seconds.
Price came home in third place in the final stage, a quick dash through 100km of sand dunes just 1.55 minutes off the pace, but to the delight of the local fans, victory went to the hometown favorite.
Stages 1 & 2
Quintanilla took the line honors in Stage 1 but Price was just 1.13 minutes behind. Then in in the second stage, in excess of six hours over brutally fast, hard piste it was Price who was in the lead after a turbulent day that saw his rival penalized overnight by six minutes for a speed violation. This left Price ahead in the overall standings by 4.12 minutes.
Price: “It was a long and unforgiving day and we got through pretty well. We had a few little navigation errors near the end but other than that it turned out to be a pretty good day. It was really long, that’s what made it difficult, but it was all really fast, wide-open piste. There wasn’t too much navigation until the end but we’re here, the bike is in good condition and I’m in good condition, so hopefully it will be like that until the end.”
Meanwhile, Matthias Walkner, the team’s Austrian factory rider was looking more comfortable on the KTM 450 RALLY after a seven-month injury break. He was fifth in the stage just 7.03 minutes off the pace and was sixth overall. Walkner said later that he had not felt very comfortable over the first 160km but made some adjustments to the bike set-up and felt more comfortable. “It went well for me with the navigation and although I had a couple of moments over the long day I was slowly betting back into the rhythm.”
Price led the third stage until the 145km mark but like others lost some time due to difficulties with the road book. At the end of the day he finished third behind Quintanilla and Argentinian rider Kevin Benavides. After wrapping up the stage with a deficit of 5.29 minutes, Price remained confident, commenting: “Everything is feeling really solid after a few long days on the bike, which is also a positive.” The good news was that he trimmed the overall time difference to Quintanilla to just 21 seconds. Teammates Sunderland and Walkner finished 5-6 in the stage. Walkner moved up to fifth overall and Sunderland was seventh.
Sunderland too had road book problems in the stage. “At the 100km mark there was a waypoint on the opposite side of a slip face and I got stuck getting up to it and that was frustrating.”Sunderland said he had left himself a lot to do right from the first stage when he had a small crash in the fesh-fesh and lost his goggles. “I set myself up for a tough job,” he said.
Stage 3 was a particularly tough one for Sanz who experienced some fuel issues at the end of the stage: “I was doing a good stage, without big mistakes and at a great pace. And after 200km in the dunes I had to walk and push the bike more than one kilometer.”
Price and Quintanilla continued to duke it out in the fourth stage, finishing 2-3 and only five seconds apart. Sunderland had a solid day to finish fourth (sixth overall) and Walkner was sixth (fifth overall). Sanz made a good comeback to finish the stage in 10th 17.34 minutes off the pace to move into 13th overall.
After Price, Sunderland was the next fastest of the KTM Rally factory riders at the finish. The British rider based in Dubai was fifth overall. Walkner finished sixth to record a successful return to racing after a very long injury break and Sanz finished 12th.
The final stage victory to Quintanilla sealed the overall win but his victory and he also leaves with a lead in the 2016 FIM World Cross-Country Rallies Championship. KTM’s Sunderland is second by just three points and Price, who had to withdraw from the Sealine Rally in Qatar with an injury, is third. The final round is the Oillibya Rally in Morocco at the beginning of October.
Results Stage 5 Atacama Rally 2016
1. Pablo Quintanilla (CHI), Husqvarna, 58:51 min
2. Kevin Benavides (ARG), Honda, +1:27 min
3. Toby Price (AUS), KTM, +1:55
4. Sam Sunderland (GBR), KTM, +3:54
5. Paulo Goncalves (POR), Honda, +4:04
9. Matthias Walkner (AUT), KTM, +9:11
12. Laia Sanz (ESP), KTM, +12:41
Final Standings Atacama Rally 2016 after 5 of 5 stages
1. Quintanilla, 11:42:38 h
2. Price, +29 sec
3. Benavides, +9:35 min
4. Goncalves, +10:02
5. Sunderland, +38:43
6. Walkner, +41:46
12. Sanz, +2:30:10 h