RED BULL KTM READY TO TACKLE WEEK TWO OF THE 2019 DAKAR RALLY
Red Bull KTM Factory Racing riders have completed an extremely successful first half of the 2019 Dakar Rally and now look forward to what is sure to be a hugely challenging end to the iconic event. Sam Sunderland leads the way, sitting in second overall with five days of rallying left to race. Toby Price lies fourth with defending champion Matthias Walkner seventh. Team junior Luciano Benavides currently sits in 13th position and is gaining confidence as the race progresses.
Saturday on the Dakar Rally marks the well-earned rest day for competitors at the 2019 Dakar Rally. In what has been a unique Dakar so far, times between all of the top riders have been close on the fast and unpredictable stages. With each stage throwing up a number of surprises it hasn’t all been endless dunes as some may have expected. Tricky navigation and a varied mixture of terrain have challenged the riders and with the rally soon to be retracing its route back towards the finish in Lima, conditions will be even tougher for the final five days of racing.
Sam Sunderland’s stage win on Friday elevated him to second overall, just less than one minute from the lead. Feeling fit and confident, the 2017 Dakar winner is ready to push during the second half of the rally.
Sam Sunderland: “So far, the race has been really, really hard. The navigation, the nature of the stages with the Fesh-Fesh, the rocks, mass-start days and all the little changes they have thrown into the mix – it’s all come together to make it a very different Dakar and seriously tough. The final five days are going to be the same or even trickier, strategy is difficult as you don’t know what the next stage is going to bring. All we can do is take each day as it comes and go from there. Coming into the race I expected many more kilometres in the dunes, but the organisers have certainly thrown everything else at us as well. I’m happy with my position, second overall going into the second week is of course great, but the nature of the race has made everything very close. I am still feeling good and the bike is great so if I can keep on doing what I’m doing, hopefully that will put me somewhere close next Thursday.”
The 2019 Dakar Rally has been a tough one for Toby Price. Despite nursing a wrist injury sustained just weeks before the start, the determined Aussie has gritted his teeth and ridden through the pain to place fourth overall at the rally’s halfway point.
Toby Price: “So far my favourite part of the rally has been today, the rest day! No seriously, it’s been a good rally so far. I’m still in the fight and in fourth, just three minutes off the lead – if you told me that a few weeks ago I would have been quite happy. It’s been tough, every day I’m riding in pain a little and I suppose the injury is always in the back of your mind no matter what. The simple fact is, you’ve always got to be in it to win it, you can’t quit, you can’t stop, you can never give up. It doesn’t really matter where I finish, top 10, top five or on the podium, I know I will have given it my all and ridden my hardest.”
Enjoying a successful rally so far, Matthias Walkner currently lies in seventh overall with a stage win under his belt. A hard landing from a drop-off on stage four couldn’t even slow his pace. The defending champion is happy with his performance so far and keen to attack the second week of racing.
Matthias Walkner: “The Dakar Rally is like no other and this year we have seen it’s different again. The average speed on the stages has been high and it has made strategy tricky to work out. Opening the piste has been tough as we have seen, but at the same time it’s important to keep an eye on your competitors to see what they are doing, too. The first week has been good, day three was beautiful. The weather was good and the route took us through some beautiful valleys and over the dunes. The stages in general have been good, dusty in places and very, very fast. Now on the second half of the rally we will go back and cover some of the areas we have ridden already. I think it will affect the pace again as you can’t always follow the tracks on the ground, you have to rely on your road book completely. If the rally finished now with me in seventh place, of course I would be unhappy with my position but I would be happy with how I have ridden – I have done my very best on every single day and that feels good.”
Riding only his second Dakar and his first in the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing team, Luciano Benavides continues to improve as the race progresses. Finishing a career-best of seventh on the gruelling stage five, the Argentinian feels fit and confident ahead of the next half of the event.
Luciano Benavides: “It’s been a really good event for me so far. I am still learning a lot and so one of the hardest challenges from the first part of the rally was maintaining a strong but consistent pace. It’s tempting to push and really go for it, but mistakes are so easy to make when you do that. By finding your rhythm and staying fully focused on each stage I have found the speed will come on its own. Physically I am feeling good so for next week I want to continue as I have been, hopefully my strength and stamina will be an advantage as the race goes on. Yesterday on stage five I rode really well and got my best ever result, if I can do similar for the next few stages I believe I can finish inside the top 10. It has been an amazing Dakar so far and I have enjoyed it a lot, I would prefer if the race crossed Argentina but unfortunately, not this year.”
The KTM Factory Racing pairing of Laia Sanz and Mario Patrao have put in strong performances on the first five stages and are both looking to better their positions during the latter half of the race. Despite recovering from illness coming into the rally, Sanz has ridden extremely well to lie in 20th position. Patrao enters the Dakar’s second week lying 29th.
Laia Sanz: “The main thing I have learned this Dakar is that I can still surprise myself in what I can accomplish when I put my mind to it. I wasn’t 100 percent coming into the race and the first couple of days took me a while to feel comfortable and get into a good rhythm, the last three days have been great though. My pace has improved and I am much happier on the bike, despite the stages being so tough. My goal for next week is to continue as I have been and hopefully, I can improve my position a little. It’s going to be tough for me, the conditions this year don’t suit me so well as the stages are often about speed and not so much the navigation. I’ll try my best and as we know anything can happen at Dakar so if I can make it into the top 15, I’ll be happy.”
Mario Patrao: “Physically I feel fit and everything is good with the bike. The first week has gone well with no big problems. Part of my role within the team is to assist the others and thankfully the marathon stage went very well. With that behind us I can relax a little and focus more on the coming days. All the team are feeling good and we are prepared to attack the second half of the rally. I think the second week is going to be harder and I think there are places that we are going to repeat but in the opposite way, which is going to be harder because the path is destroyed and the navigation is a lot tougher.”
Jordi Viladoms (KTM Rally Team Manager): “We knew from the very beginning the 2019 Dakar Rally would be one of very high intensity. Obviously, that has been the case, all the riders are really close and many different things happen each day that can throw off our strategy. Opening the piste is a big disadvantage and can result in a lot of time lost, we need to be mindful of that and adjust things. The race is so unpredictable, following a plan like that simply isn’t possible so we have to take each day as it comes. We go into the second half of the rally with Sam near the front, some guys in the middle and some further back so we have the positions covered. In my opinion the next three stages are going to be extremely important, the final two are a lot shorter and will make it harder to make up time if we need to. We’ll have a good idea of where we are after day eight. Every single one of our riders is performing very well. Sam is fit and I think can push next week and really fight for the win, Matthias the same – he’s so strong on his navigation and he has found a great rhythm, Toby is hurting but is so strong physically and mentally, we just need to make sure he doesn’t risk too much. Luciano and Laia are riding very well and of course Mario has been brilliant. The marathon stage is always a very important part of the rally and Mario was great assisting with all the bikes and attending the briefings. He’s taken on the father’s role for the riders, so a big thank you to him. We are definitely in a good position to fight for the podium places and the win of the rally. The next few days will be crucial, but we will do what we do best and hopefully we’ll be successful.”
Following their rest day, riders head out to the bivouac on Saturday evening to prepare for Sunday’s stage six. The route covers a total of 838 kilometres, with a 336-kilometre timed special. Competitors will arrive back at the bivouac in San Juan de Marcona after racing some of the same ground covered already – good navigation will be necessary in claiming a top result.
Standings after Stage Five – Rest Day 2019 Dakar Rally
1. Ricky Brabec (USA), Honda, 16:51:34
2. Sam Sunderland (GBR), KTM, 16:52:33 +0:59
3. Pablo Quintanilla (CHI), Husqvarna, 16:54:26 +2:52
4. Toby Price (AUT), KTM, 16:54:55 +3:21
5. Adrien van Beveren (FRA), Yamaha, 16:58:10 +6:36
7. Matthias Walkner (AUT), KTM, 16:57:51 +6:17
9. Stefan Svitko (SVK), KTM, 17:18:02 +26:28
13. Luciano Benavides (ARG), KTM, 17:40:16 +48:42
19. Laia Sanz (ESP), KTM, 18:23:24 +1:37:50
21. Mario Patrao (POR), KTM, 18:44:19 +1:52:45