KTM continued its incredible Rally Dakar story on Saturday (January 20) when Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s Matthias Walkner, competing aboard the new KTM 450 RALLY machine, secured the Austrian manufacturer’s 17th consecutive victory at the notoriously tough event, while KTM mounted riders clinched four of the five top positions.
Having covered nearly 9,000 km of the most challenging terrain through Peru, Bolivia and Argentina, Toby Price brought his KTM machine home for a podium finish, placing third having battled to the end following his return to competitive riding at the event. Antoine Meo placed an impressive fourth with Gerard Farres Guell in fifth. Laia Sanz was 12th overall having concluded yet another incredible ride, although it was Matthias Walkner who capitalized on his navigational skills to take the victory.
Walkner, who entered the final timed special stage of the rally with a healthy 22-minute lead over his nearest competitor, has unquestionably put in a champion’s performance at this year’s event – the 40th edition of the Rally Dakar. The former FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Champion has ridden intelligently from the very first stage, finding the right balance between out-and-out speed and error-free navigation. Stage 10 was again a game-changer in the rally, when 31-year-old Walkner ended the day with an almost 30-minute advantage over his nearest competitors.
Having held his nerve and on reaching the finish of Saturday’s 14th and final stage in eighth position, Walkner took the 2018 Rally Dakar victory and became the first Austrian motorcycle rider to do so – a well-deserved, historic achievement.
Matthias Walkner: “It’s unbelievable – I can’t describe how it feels. This year’s Dakar has been so difficult, easily the toughest rally of my career. Navigation has been tricky pretty much every day. At the beginning of the race, all the top guys were so close with not much time between us. I just tried to keep on doing well each day without making any mistakes. Things were so tight right up to my stage victory. After that I aimed to finish each day safely and get to the end of the rally without losing my advantage. Luckily the tactics worked out and I’m here at the end now as the winner and it feels unreal. Thank you to my team and everyone that has supported me – we did it!”
Finishing as runner-up on the final stage, Toby Price did everything he could to close down the gap on the riders in front of him. Playing catch up following an unfortunate navigational error earlier in the rally, Price’s speed in the final stages of the event was phenomenal. His results secured third place in the overall standings, an amazing feat considering the 2018 Rally Dakar is the Australian’s first competitive outing since injury forced him out of the 2017 event.
Toby Price: “The final stage is over and it went really well. I’m happy to get to the finish line; that was always the main goal right from the start. I tried to push today to make up the time on Kevin (Benavides) but halfway through I knew five minutes was just too much and so I just aimed for a safe finish. To finish the Dakar is an achievement in itself, to come away at the end of this year’s race with a podium is unbelievable, especially after the year I’ve had. The whole team have come together and worked so hard, none of us could do it without them. I’ll concentrate on the 2018 season now and try to get a little stronger and come back here next year looking for the top-step.”
Similarly to his teammate, Antoine Meo’s 2017 season has been plagued with injury. Coming into the Dakar the Frenchman’s goal was simply to get to the finish. Two stage wins and a successful rally later, Meo has placed an impressive fourth overall, a great achievement considering the difficulty of this year’s event.
Antoine Meo: “I am so happy to complete the race in one piece. Today (Saturday) was difficult, not because of the length of the stage but because we had to wait around a bit and it was hard to maintain concentration. I tried to push early on, but after making a small mistake I caught a truck in an awkward part of the track and lost some time stuck behind him. I had a couple of crashes this year but nothing too bad. I’m happy with how things have gone and would like to thank the team for getting us through it this year.”
Laia Sanz never ceases to impress. Despite two big crashes on the closing stages of the race, the Spaniard gritted her teeth and kept on going. Always close to the top 10, Laia eventually completed the Dakar in 12th overall. The multiple Enduro World Champion was over the moon with her performance.
Laia Sanz: “I am so happy to get to the finish, I am really pleased with my position too – it has been a very tough rally. I had two big crashes, which luckily didn’t cause too much damage to me or the bike. I am exhausted now but feel good because I am here, safely at the finish. I want to thank all the team for their help and now it’s finally time to relax.”
Pit Beirer (KTM Motorsport Director): “It goes without saying that winning the Rally Dakar for the 17th consecutive time is an incredible achievement for KTM. I’d like to congratulate Matthias on his first victory at the event in what was an exceptionally tough race. This result is a testament to the hard work of everyone involved, from our R&D department in Mattighofen, to the team on the ground in South America, and I’m proud that it has paid off yet again, especially with the new KTM 450 RALLY machine. Our warriors have certainly delivered, and now we can celebrate and enjoy the stories of this year’s race.”
Final Standings Rally Dakar 2018
1. Matthias Walkner (AUT), KTM, 43:06:01 h (1 min penalty)
2. Kevin Benavides (ARG), Honda, +16:53 min
3. Toby Price (AUS), KTM, +23:01 min
4. Antoine Meo (FRA), KTM, +47:28 min (1 min penalty)
5. Gerard Farres Guell (ESP), KTM, +01:01:04 h
9. Daniel Oliveiras Carreras (ESP), KTM, +02:37:20 h
12. Laia Sanz (ESP), KTM, +02:56:02 h (2 min penalty)