Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s Matthias Walkner entered the final timed special stage of the rally with a healthy 22-minute lead over his nearest competitor. Holding his nerve and completing the short 120km loop around the Argentinian city of Córdoba, the KTM 450 RALLY mounted rider did exactly what he needed to do to win the 2018 Dakar Rally.
This victory, the first for an Austrian rider in the motorcycle class, is the 17th in a row for KTM, who have won each and every edition of the Dakar since the rally moved to South America in 2009.
Walkner has unquestionably put in a champion’s performance at this year’s event – the 40th edition of the Dakar Rally. The former FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Champion has ridden intelligently from the very first stage, finding the right balance between out-and-out speed and error-free navigation. Stage 10 was again a game-changer in the rally with Walkner ending the day with an almost 30-minute advantage over his nearest competitors.
In reaching the finish of today’s final stage in eighth position, Matthias was finally able to relax and celebrate a well-deserved win and let his historic achievement sink in.
Matthias Walkner: “It’s unbelievable - I can’t describe how it feels. This year’s Dakar has been so difficult, easily the toughest rally of my career. Navigation has been tricky pretty much every day. At the beginning of the race, all the top guys were so close with not much time between us. I just tried to keep on doing well each day without making any mistakes. Things were so tight right up to my stage victory. After that I aimed to finish each day safely and get to the end of the rally without losing my advantage. Luckily the tactics worked out and I’m here at the end now as the winner and it feels unreal. Thank you to my team and everyone that has supported me – we did it!”
Finishing as runner-up on today’s stage, Toby Price did everything he could to close down the gap on the riders in front of him. Playing catch up following an unfortunate navigational error earlier in the rally, Price’s speed in the final stages of the event have been phenomenal. His result today secured third place in the overall standings, an amazing feat considering the 2018 Dakar is the Australian’s first competitive outing since injury forced him out of the 2017 event.
Toby Price: “The final stage is over and it went really well. I’m happy to get to the finish line, that was always the main goal right from the start. I tried to push today to make up the time on Kevin (Benavides) but halfway through I knew five minutes was just too much and so I just aimed for a safe finish. To finish the Dakar is an achievement in itself, to come away at the end of this year’s race with a podium is unbelievable, especially after the year I’ve had. The whole team have come together and worked so hard, none of us could do it without them. I’ll concentrate on the 2018 season now and try to get a little stronger and come back here next year looking for the top-step.”
Similarly to his team-mate, Antoine Meo’s 2018 season has been plagued with injury. Coming into the Dakar the Frenchman’s goal was simply to get to the finish. Two stage wins and a successful rally later, Meo has placed an impressive fourth overall, a great achievement considering the difficulty of this year’s event.
Antoine Meo: “I am so happy to complete the race in one piece. Today was difficult, not because of the length of the stage but because we had to wait around a bit and it was hard to maintain concentration. I tried to push early on, but after making a small mistake I caught a truck in an awkward part of the track and lost some time stuck behind him. I had a couple of crashes this year but nothing too bad. I’m happy with how things have gone and would like to thank the team for getting us through it this year.”
Laia Sanz never ceases to impress. Despite two big crashes on the closing stages of the race, the Spaniard gritted her teeth and kept on going. Always close to the top-10, Laia eventually completed the Dakar in 12th overall. The multiple world champion, was over the moon with her performance.
Laia Sanz: “I am so happy to get to the finish, I am really pleased with my position too – it has been a very tough rally. I had two big crashes, which luckily didn’t cause too much damage to me or the bike. I am exhausted now but feel good because I am here, safely at the finish. I want to thank all the team for their help and now it’s finally time to relax.”
After close to 9,000km covered, one of the toughest rallies in history, the Dakar has come to a close. In only its second competitive outing the new KTM 450 RALLY has proven its worth and taken Matthias Walkner to his first Dakar win and KTM to its 17th Dakar victory.
Provisional Results Final Stage 14 – 2018 Dakar Rally
1. Kevin Benavides (ARG), Honda, 1:26:41
2. Toby Price (AUT), KTM, 1:27:35 +0:54
3. Antoine Meo (FRA), KTM, 1:29:30 +2:49
4. Daniel Oliveras Carreras (ESP), KTM, 1:30:06 +3:25
5. Johnny Aubert (FRA), Gas Gas, 1:31:00 +4:19
7. Gerard Farres (ESP), KTM, 1:32:04 +5:23
8. Matthias Walkner (AUT), KTM, 1:32:19 +5:38
11. Laia Sanz (ESP), KTM, 1:37:44 +11:03
Provisional Final Standings – 2018 Dakar Rally
1. Matthias Walkner (AUT), KTM, 43:06:01
2. Kevin Benavides (ARG), Honda, 43:22:54 +16:53
3. Toby Price (AUT), KTM, 43:29:02 +23:01
4. Antoine Meo (FRA), KTM, 43:53:29 +47:28
5. Gerard Farres (ESP), KTM, 44:07:05 +1:01:04
9. Daniel Oliveras Carreras (ESP), KTM, 45:43:21 +2:37:20
12. Laia Sanz (ESP), KTM, 46:02:03 +2:56:02