Red Bull KTM Factory Racing have completed a successful stage one of the 2019 Dakar Rally with Sam Sunderland, Toby Price and Matthias Walkner all finishing well inside the top 10. Luciano Benavides put in a solid performance to claim the 15th fastest time of the day with KTM Factory Racing’s Laia Sanz and Mario Patrao placing 31st and 36th respectively.
The opening stage of the 41st Dakar Rally took competitors from the host city of Lima to Pisco, near the southern coast of Peru. Although short at just 84 kilometres, the day’s timed special still threw up a few challenges. Starting in reverse order, the top riders would have to wait until last to get their chance to enter the stage. Dust thrown up from the riders in front made overtaking difficult with the Peruvian heat also making conditions tough.
Keen to make up for his retirement from the 2018 event, Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s Sam Sunderland put in a strong performance on the opening day’s timed special to claim the fifth fastest time – just under three minutes down on the leader. Choosing to navigate his way through the stage rather than following existing tracks, the 2017 Dakar champion rode an intelligent day and is looking forward to tomorrow.
Sam Sunderland:“I’m pleased with the opening stage, I felt good on the bike and happy with my pace. We had to be careful as the less experienced riders had opened the stage, I think some of the top guys took the risk and pushed the tracks, but I played it safe and navigated myself. It maybe cost me a little time but I think it was the best option. I caught a few riders ahead of me and lost some time in one of the rivers but I didn’t take any risks out there – we have a lot more days to come.”
Putting in a brave performance, just 12 seconds down on teammate Sunderland, Toby Price successfully completed the stage despite nursing the wrist he broke just weeks beforehand. Aware of the task ahead of him, Price plans to take the rally day-by-day.
Toby Price:“The first day has gone well. My wrist is giving me some pain so I know the next nine days are going to be tough. But I can’t complain, I’m happy with sixth place today. Conditions out there were ok, you just have to be careful in the dunes that you don’t send it off one of the big drops – I can’t afford to risk anything like that so I need to be a little careful. The bike is running sweet, so thanks to Joe my mechanic for that. It’s going to be a long one tomorrow but I’ll give it my best.”
Displaying the number one plate on his KTM 450 RALLY, Matthias Walkner set off from Lima as the very last rider away. The Austrian made use of his experience to navigate the well-ridden route ahead of him to claim a solid seventh place, putting him in an excellent position for Tuesday’s stage two.
Matthias Walkner:“Today was a good day, it feels great to start the rally and I felt better than I imagined after being a little ill over the last few days. The opening riders made a good job of the navigation and most of the top guys are all at a similar pace, but it was really fast out there today. As well as the sand dunes there were some rivers and rocky sections – with the wind and the riders in front there was a lot of dust and that made things even more tricky. The bike is working well and we’ll continue to work on settings as the rally goes on. Overall, it’s been an encouraging day.”
Making his competitive debut in the Red Bull livery, Luciano Benavides posted the 15th fastest time on the fast, yet technical, stage. Riding to his own consistent pace, Luciano hopes to build on his speed as the rally progresses.
Luciano Benavides:“I’m really happy with my first day’s riding. I was a little worried at first because riding as number 77 meant I would have to start earlier on and have to pass some of the riders ahead. I took a little time to feel confident on the bike and get used to the dunes, but I rode well and didn’t get lost at all. It was really hot and dusty out there and at one point I did catch a group in a river section, but decided to just wait a little and not risk too much by trying to get past. Overall, I am happy and looking forward to tomorrow although I think it’s going to be a long and tough day.”
KTM Factory Racing’s Laia Sanz and Mario Patrao both opened their 2019 Dakar Rally accounts with solid performances on the short timed special. Both riders kept to a safer pace so as not to risk any mistakes so early in the event. Clocking the 31st fastest time, Sanz was pleased with her day.
Laia Sanz:“It’s really strange to be back on the bike in the dunes. After not being able to ride for such a long time it took me a little while to get used to everything again and I need to build my confidence up and hopefully then I’ll feel a bit more confident. My fitness seems good, I feel ok, but today was only a short stage and there are nine more to go. I’ll continue to set a good, safe pace and hopefully improve my position as the race goes on.”
Aiming for a consistent, safe finish to day one, Patrao finished in 36th position.
Mario Patrao:“I didn’t feel quite as comfortable at first today so I decided to stick to a good rhythm but not risk pushing. The Dakar is a long rally and today is just day one. The bike feels perfect, so I will take things step-by-step and we’ll see what happens tomorrow.”
Stage two of the 2019 Dakar Rally leaves Pisco and heads for San Juan de Marcona. The total stage distance is 553 kilometres including a tough 342-kilometre timed special. The cars will open the stage, which may ease navigation for the bike class but will invariably make the route a lot rougher to ride.
Words & Photo – KTM