The 2019 Dakar Rally was one of success for Red Bull KTM Factory Racing. Continuing their incredible winning streak at the world’s most prestigious rally, Red Bull KTM riders secured all three podium positions at the close of what was a highly-challenging edition of the annual event. Putting in one of the pluckiest rides in recent Dakar history, Toby Price secured the Austrian brand’s 18th consecutive victory at the world’s toughest cross-country rally.
The 2019 event was unique in many ways. Held only in Peru, featuring a shorter 5,000-kilometre route and staged over 10 days, it produced some extremely close racing and results. With the majority of the timed special stages held on the soft sand dunes of the Peruvian desert, good navigation and overall strategy were unquestionably of equal importance. A start position further down the field would allow a rider to ‘push the tracks’ and make up time on the riders ahead. In contrast, a stage win would mean opening the next day’s route and invariably losing time to the competitors behind.
With his participation initially in doubt following a training accident just weeks before the event, Toby Price arrived in Peru with the modest goal of simply completing the rally and backing up his teammates as best as he could. As the race progressed, the physical strain was obvious with his injured wrist becoming more painful with each passing stage.
Gritting his teeth, the 2018 FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Champion nevertheless made the start of each stage and put in solid performances to lie in an impressive fourth overall at the rest day, halfway through the rally. Going into the second week, the tough and testing conditions started to take their toll on the competition and their machines as Price moved up the order.
Going into the final day, Toby had a one-minute lead over the then second-placed Pablo Quintanilla. The two friends and rivals would both have to ride their absolute best on the short 112-kilomtere special to be in with a chance of the win. Unfortunately for Quintanilla a crash just 10 kilometres into the stage ruled him out of contention while Price, after stopping to check his fellow competitor was ok, went on to win the stage and ultimately the rally.
Clinching his second Dakar title, Toby attributed his win to the support of both his fans and, most importantly, the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing team.
Toby Price: “It’s crazy knowing I have won the rally – I didn’t even think I would make the rest day. My bike has been amazing, the team has been amazing, honestly without the help and support of everyone around me I wouldn’t be standing here as winner of the Dakar. It all came down to the final day and I knew I had to push to be in with a chance of taking the win. The wrist has been getting worse and worse each day but I had to grit my teeth for one final time and go for it. Thankfully, all the hard work was worth it and the pain doesn’t matter anymore – I’m stood here as the 2019 Dakar Champion.”
With Toby’s victory handing KTM their 18th consecutive Dakar Rally win, success earned in Peru was, as in previous Dakars, the result of a true team effort.
Pit Beirer (KTM Motorsport Director): “For us it’s another special moment, especially going into the new season, as all the racing world is looking at the Dakar. It was a very, very tough race – listening to the riders so far it was the toughest they ever went through. It’s just such a long fight, and we always prepare and hope with our riders. We struggled with their pain, but at the end of the day we could turn the race around another time and to win it with such a dominating result is just incredible.
“Toby has defied the odds – while it was looking like it may not be possible for him to start this year’s Dakar, winning together was something we could only have dreamed of. His fighting spirit to the final kilometre with the injury he has is remarkable.
“The one-two-three may look easy on paper, but if you follow the Dakar and how difficult it was to reach this result it’s amazing what our people are doing – the bike preparation, logistics, trucks, physiotherapy and everything behind the scenes are all important. I really want to thank our fantastic team, it really is the number one team in the world – how the guys prepare for the Dakar, how the engineers build the bike, how the riders do such a fantastic race.
“Matthias fought so hard for second, which is a great achievement especially as many riders struggle the year after winning the Dakar, and Sam’s race was not easy for his hard-fought third place. We are looking forward to hearing all of their stories. Luciano, who has so far been classed as our team junior, also had a fantastic race. As did Laia Sanz, who yet again put on an outstanding performance. We are so proud of our rally achievements in KTM – we are happy that we are at the finish line and we now look forward to our team returning home so we can celebrate this moment together.”
2018 Dakar winner, Matthias Walkner rode to an excellent second place overall, despite injuring himself during the early stages of the event. A hard landing from a dune resulted in a painful, swollen ankle but it didn’t slow the Austrian’s pace as he went on to claim two stage wins at the gruelling event. Following nine days of racing, covering 5,000 kilometres, Walkner was just six minutes down going into the final stage. A third-place finish on stage 10 secured Matthias the runner-up position in the final rally standings.
Matthias Walkner: “The race was so close this year, I truly believe I rode my best Dakar ever. The whole 10 days went well and I made the minimum of mistakes. There were a couple of times where the start position was tough or we had trouble with the road book, but overall, I feel really happy with my performance. After hurting my ankle so early on, my goal was just to complete the rally safely. To take second place on the podium feels incredible. It’s such an emotional race for me – to put so much into something, so much hard work, and to get something back at the end is an amazing feeling.”
In what was an up-and-down rally for Sam Sunderland, the Brit kept his composure and kept on battling right to the end. Stopping to assist a fallen rider on day five, Sunderland went on to win the stage after having the time lost reallocated to him at the end of the day. With the following day’s stage being long and especially tricky to navigate, Sam put in an amazing ride opening the stage but ultimately placed 12th, losing 22 minutes to his rivals. Fighting back, the 2017 Dakar winner never gave up and, with his persistence paying off, secured an overall third place result at the chequered flag.
Sam Sunderland: “I’m happy to have finished the Dakar, it has been really difficult both mentally and physically this year. I want to thank my mechanic Grilly and the whole team for their support. Third position is a little bittersweet though after seeing my friend Pablo crash on the final stage. I need to mention the penalty I received for missing my start time on stage six, thankfully it was rectified at the end of the event but it put both myself and the team in a difficult position as we didn’t know exactly where we stood right up until the final moment. Overall, I’m happy with how I rode and I’m already looking forward to the next race.”
Arguably putting in the ride of his career, Luciano Benavides justified his position within the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing squad with a superb eighth place in what is his first ever Dakar finish. Showing increasing speed and maturity throughout the rally, the young Argentinian became a regular top-10 finisher and in doing so, a great asset to the team.
Luciano Benavides: “It has been a very tough year to get to this point. After my crash at last year’s event I put in so much work over the following 12 months, not just on getting fit again but also on my road book skills and navigation. I am happy to say it all paid off – I felt more and more confident as the rally went on and made fewer mistakes. It feels great to get eighth place, my goal was to hopefully finish inside the top 10 and now I have done it, I can’t describe how it feels.”
Laia Sanz, ‘Queen of the Desert’, once again put in an awe-inspiring display as she rode to 11th place overall in what is her ninth consecutive Dakar finish. Halfway through 2018, Sanz was diagnosed with the Epstein Barr virus, making it extremely difficult to do any training at all, on or off the bike. Coming into the event, the Spaniard’s goal was simply to successfully complete the rally with no thought about her overall position. Day by day, the KTM Factory Racing rider’s consistency, mental strength and navigational skills rewarded her with one strong result after another. Narrowly missing out on a top-10 overall position, Laia was over the moon with her performance.
Laia Sanz: “This year has been a very special Dakar for me, partly because I didn’t have time to prepare for the rally and because the format this year didn’t suit me or my style so well. There were times when I didn’t enjoy the event as much as I would have liked but I kept on going and now to stand here after placing 11th feels amazing. I am very proud to be able to ride the best machine for the best team.”
Mario Patrao did a fantastic job for the KTM Factory Racing team, especially aiding the other riders at the halfway stage of the event’s marathon stage where no outside assistance is allowed to competitors. Unfortunately, a fall on stage six brought an end to the Portuguese rider’s race. We wish Mario all the best with his recovery.
The next event for the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing rally riders will be round one of the 2019 FIM Cross Country Rallies World Championship – the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge – held March 30-April 4 in the United Arab Emirates.
Final Standings – 2019 Dakar Rally
1. Toby Price (AUS), KTM, 33:57:16
2. Matthias Walkner (AUT), KTM, 34:06:29 +9:13
3. Sam Sunderland (GBR), KTM, 34:10:50 +13:34
4. Pablo Quintanilla (CHL), Husqvarna, 34:18:02 +20:46
5. Andrew Short (USA), Husqvarna, 34:41:26 +44:10
8. Luciano Benavides (ARG), KTM, 35:06:26 +1:09:10
11. Laia Sanz (ESP), KTM, 37:21:26 +3:24:10