The Red Bull KTM Factory Racing team of Toby Price, Matthias Walkner, Sam Sunderland and Luciano Benavides have arrived safely in Saudi Arabia ahead of this year’s Dakar Rally. Joined by KTM Factory Racing’s Mario Patrao, the five-man team have successfully completed their shakedown tests ahead of Sunday’s opening stage.
The 42nd edition of the Dakar Rally will present a new challenge to all competitors with a switch to the Middle East and Saudi Arabia. The KTM team have completed their pre-race tests with only administrative tasks standing between them and the race start on Sunday, January 5.
The opening day of the event looks set to challenge the riders straight from the off, with a demanding 752-kilometre stage incorporating a 319-kilometre timed special. The route will take riders north from Jeddah, along the Red Sea coast and cover a wide variety of terrain including sand, dirt, rocky pistes and dunes. Navigation will also be a huge factor in not only this first stage but throughout the whole 12-stage event.
Proudly riding with the Dakar number-one plate, Toby Price is physically fit and keen to get his title defence off to a strong start on Sunday. The Aussie star is feeling confident but knows the magnitude of the task ahead of both himself and his teammates.
Toby Price: “If what we saw yesterday in the shakedown is anything to go by, the terrain is going to be quite different to what we have raced before. The sand was really soft and will make for some really tough stages. I’m hoping for some faster, hard-packed pistes too, but you can never really know what to expect. The bike is great – my mechanic and the whole team have done an amazing job as usual. I’m excited to see what the rally brings and looking forward to getting started.”
Second to Price at the 2019 Dakar Rally, Matthias Walkner also spent the majority of last year recovering from injury. Now close to being 100 percent, the Austrian rider is looking forward to getting started and hopes to secure his second Dakar title at the end of the tough 12-stage event.
Matthias Walkner: “It’s been good to get a taste for the terrain here. The shakedown test went really well – there was a good mixture of rocky tracks in the mountains with softer dunes at the base of the hills. From what we have seen so far, the land looks really nice. I think the event is going to be very tough, but it’s a new year, a new challenge and I’ll go out there and do my best.”
Reigning 2019 FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Champion Sam Sunderland comes into the 2020 Dakar on form and hoping to carry his winning momentum to the dunes of Saudi Arabia. A former resident of Dubai, Sam is an experienced sand specialist and will also be aiming to secure a second win at the iconic race.
Sam Sunderland: “It’s always good to get out on the bike and tune yourself in. The area we used was not so big and I think it won’t be a real indication of the terrain we’ll face over the course of the race. Everything went well though and things are good here in Saudi. These days before the race always seem to drag on – you’ve been working so hard on the lead up to the event and now you just want to get started. Everything is packed up and ready now, we just have to complete the admin side and then we’re off. It’s looking like it’s going to be a tough one though and I’d say there will be quite a high rate of attrition. The 12 long stages are going to be a real challenge, but the goal is the same as always – making it safely to the finish is the priority and hopefully if everything goes well, we’ll be somewhere near the front.”
This year’s race marks the third Dakar Rally for Luciano Benavides. Crashing out in 2018, the young Argentinian went on to claim a top-10 finish at the 2019 event. With another year’s experience under his belt the FIM Junior World Champion is focused on a strong finish in Saudi Arabia.
Luciano Benavides: “I’m really excited to be here for this new-look Dakar. The country is very different here – the culture, the people, the food. The shakedown test went well, but the terrain we saw was different to anything I have ever ridden on before, especially compared to back home in Argentina. The sand and dunes are so soft here and it’s really easy to get caught out and have a crash because it’s difficult to tell which parts are soft and which parts are harder. I think in the race, things will be different and we’ll be able to push a little harder, but it’s definitely going to be a new experience for all of us.”
Joining the team once again for the Dakar Rally, KTM Factory Racing’s Mario Patrao is hoping for a strong result at this 42nd running of the race, while also providing an invaluable support role to his teammates on what looks to be one of the toughest editions yet.
With just technical inspections and administration to go, the whole team are ready to race and eager to get started with stage one on Sunday.
Jordi Viladoms – KTM Rally Team Manager: “Everything is going well here – the riders and the bikes are all ready, we’re now going through the final few steps ahead of the start of the race. We’ve been working hard with the organisers, finalising the details of the new rules and regulations that have been implemented this year and working out a good strategy. The first stage on Sunday looks like it will be tough right from the start – long, demanding with plenty of tricky navigation. Hopefully the team can claim a good result on the stage and get the rally off to the best possible start.”
Starting January 5 from Jeddah in Saudi Arabia with a 752-kilometre stage one, the 2020 Dakar Rally will cover a total of close to 8,000 kilometres over 12 days of racing.
Photo: KTM Sportmotorcycle