Red Bull KTM Factory Racing have successfully completed the demanding first week of the 2022 Dakar Rally. Matthias Walkner is currently the top KTM rider, sitting in a strong second overall in the rally standings. Kevin Benavides and Toby Price endured a tough start to their race campaigns, but both have been steadily fighting their way back up the order, and now sit eighth and 12th respectively. Danilo Petrucci has been a revelation, impressing all with his speed and skill, as well as taking the stage win on day five.
Saturday at the Dakar gives all competitors a well-earned break from competition, and with the 2022 Dakar Rally challenging competitors right from the start with its long, grueling stages and technical navigation, the Red Bull KTM team will use the downtime to recharge their batteries ahead of the forthcoming final week.
Delivering great speed and impressive consistency over the first week, Matthias Walkner is well-placed to attack the final six days of racing at this year’s Dakar. Lying second overall, less than three minutes behind the leader after 20 hours of racing, Matthias knows a solid finish at each and every stage of the final week will be key to securing a second victory at the iconic event.
Matthias Walkner: “It’s been a good week for me. It took me a little time to get settled on the bike because I hadn’t ridden the new version so much, but with the help of the team, we made some really positive changes and I’m super happy with how things are now. I’m healthy, I haven’t had any big crashes, so I’m ready to keep pushing in the second week. It has been a tough rally so far – they always try to make things difficult in terms of navigation and slow things down a little, so I’m expecting more of the same from Sunday onwards, as it seems the terrain will be far more technical. Consistency is the most important thing, with so many riders so close on time, you can’t really afford to make a mistake that costs you 30 minutes or so. I’ve really been trying to focus on my roadbook on every stage, and so far, it’s paying off.”
Stage 1B of the Dakar – the first full stage ridden by competitors – threw up a huge surprise in terms of the incredibly precise navigation required to successfully make it through the special. With one particularly tricky note in the roadbook not only catching out the experienced Kevin Benavides and Toby Price, but also half the RallyGP field, many riders lost time on that first stage and were forced to play catch-up as the event continued. Kevin and Toby currently lie eighth and 12th respectively at the Dakar’s halfway stage, but with week two promising to require even more precise roadbook skills, they could easily make up the time required to challenge the race leaders.
Kevin Benavides: “It’s been a mixed first week for me, but overall, I’m happy with how I have ridden. Losing time on that first day was always going to be hard, but since then I have had a good pace and things have gone a lot better. My confidence with the bike is improving all the time, so I really believe I’m in a good position to attack the second week. If the first week was all about long, fast stages, I think these next six days will be all about the navigation. The roadbook this year has some differences in it day by day and that only makes it even tougher for us. The rain we have had here has also made the stages trickier to navigate – I think the key to doing well from here to the finish will be taking time and making less mistakes than everyone else. For me, I think that suits my style, and I’m looking forward to it.”
Toby Price: “It’s been a very up and down first week for me. After day one I’ve been racing hard to try and get back on terms with the others, and so far, it’s going well. It’s been a tricky first week and so I’m expecting much of the same in week two – hopefully I’ve had my share of bad luck already so I can look forward to something good over the next six days. The organizers have really tried to make things tough for us this year, which is what we expected, the key is to try and stay smooth and stay on top of the roadbook and all the little changes. Looking ahead, I’m feeling good physically, I’ve only had one little tip off and that is important at the rest day – it leaves you fit and free to really attack the second half of the race. Hopefully, if all goes well, some of the others ahead will makes some mistakes as the fatigue sets in and I can capitalize on that at the right time.”
Danilo Petrucci went through a lot on the run up to his first Dakar Rally. An injured ankle sustained in training, followed by a positive Covid-19 test, both looked like they might put an end to the Italian's race before it started. However, once cleared to race, the former MotoGP™ rider immediately showed what he was capable of, demonstrating immense speed and skill on the stages. A small technical issue was enough to force his withdrawal from stage two, but the friendly racer bounced back in style, even taking an impressive stage win on day five. Looking ahead to the second week, Danilo’s goal remains the same – head out, have fun, and enjoy his time on the bike.
Danilo Petrucci: “It’s hard to put into words my emotions after what has happened over the last few weeks. From nearly missing out on the race to taking my first stage win – it feels like I have already lived a lifetime here at the Dakar. Everything has been new – the bike, the style of race, and I have to say it has been the most demanding thing I have ever done in my life. For sure my goal is to finish the race, but I have already enjoyed an incredible experience here, and I’m so happy that I had the opportunity to do it. I’m looking forward to the next week, it’s going to be tough, every day is very tiring, and I am learning all the time with the terrain and the navigation. Already, I am the first one in history to win a MotoGP race and a stage of the Dakar, so I have completed that goal, all that is left for now, is to enjoy the rest of the race.”
Norbert Stadlbauer – Rally Team Manager: “I’m really happy with the whole team so far at what has been an incredibly tough Dakar. The bikes are working well, and all of our riders have been impressive this year. Thankfully, everyone has arrived at the rest day physically well, but also with options going ahead. Matthias is in a really good position, lying second in the standings, hopefully he can continue doing exactly what he has been doing to the end of the race, and that should put him in with a good shout at the podium. Kevin and Toby lost some time early on, but they have both already fought their way back towards the top 10. They also both have the skill, speed, and experience to do well in the second week. Finally, Danilo has been incredible, we knew he would be able to hold his own offroad, but for him to take a stage win, is very impressive. Looking ahead to next week, the atmosphere in the team is really good and positive. We have strategies for all the riders and hopefully, if everything goes to plan, we can put them into place and earn some strong results at the end of the event. Obviously, the goal is to win, so we will give it our all on the second week.”
Provisional Standings – 2022 Dakar Rally after 6 of 12 stages
1. Sam Sunderland (GBR), GASGAS, 19:55:59
2. Matthias Walkner (AUT), KTM, 19:58:38 +2:39
3. Daniel Sanders (AUS), GASGAS, 20:01:34 +5:35
4. Adrien Van Beveren (FRA), Yamaha, 20:03:42 +7:43
5. Pablo Quintanilla (CHI), Honda, 20:13:43 +17:44
8. Kevin Benavides (ARG), KTM, 20:20:55 +24:56
12. Toby Price (AUS), KTM, 20:35:08 +39:09