Red Bull KTM’s team of Toby Price, Matthias Walkner, Britain’s 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 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.
“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,” said Price.
“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.
Walkner said: “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.
“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,” said Sunderland.
“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.”