One of the most exciting, and grueling, off-road races of the year is upon us yet again and KTM is ready for battle. Of course, we can only be talking about the 2019 Dakar, and Red Bull KTM is bringing a four-man team to go for its 18th consecutive victory.
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Matthias Walkner, Toby Price, Sam Sunderland and Luciano Benavides are now in the final stages of their preparations ahead of the 2019 Dakar Rally. One final test in Abu Dhabi is now all that stands between the four Red Bull KTM Factory Racing riders and the 10-day event being held exclusively in Peru. Fielding an exceptionally strong team that includes three previous Dakar winners, Red Bull KTM will fight for their 18th consecutive victory at the prestigious annual event.
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.
Setting off from Lima, the 2019 Dakar Rally will see riders compete for a total of over 5,000 kilometres, 3,000 of which will be timed special stages. With the route consisting of 70 percent sand dunes, the event will be like no other. The organisers have billed the 41st edition as one of ‘unequalled intensity’ where navigation, endurance and perhaps more importantly than ever, ultimate speed will be key to a strong result.
Looking to defend his 2018 Dakar title, Matthias Walkner will head to Peru with his confidence high. 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.”
Less than two months since he was crowned FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Champion, Toby Price is already fully focused on the Dakar. Similarly to his teammate Walkner, Price endured a challenging start to his 2018 season with some bad fortune and mixed results hampering his championship hopes. However, a charge in the latter half of the year 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 soon back on a bike and fighting for the win at the first round of the world championship in Abu Dhabi. As the season moved on to Chile, Sam was again battling for victory when a further injury caused him to miss the next few races. Regrouping for the final round in Morocco, and despite a tyre issue causing him to lose time early on, the Brit’s pace was impressive in the sand with Sam taking a stage win. Pleased with his speed on the bike, Sunderland has also been working on his overall fitness for what looks to be one of the most intense Dakar Rallies to date.
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 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 with a strong result in Peru. Following five tough months of recovery, Benavides returned to competition at his home race – the Desafio Ruta 40 in Argentina – to place an excellent sixth. Concentrating on his navigation and strategy during the final rounds of the year, the number 77 will be looking to build on his experience and complete his first Dakar Rally.
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 first goal is simply to finish, as I had to drop out this year. 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. My crash this year came from a lack of focus, so I need to change that for January. I have spent a lot of time working on my navigation and strategy so hopefully it will all pay off.”
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. Patrao will be racing his first Dakar for the factory team and hopes to be able to support the rest of the squad by riding a solid, consistent Dakar in what looks to be a shorter, but no-less brutal race.
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.