Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s Manuel Lettenbichler has got his FIM Hard Enduro World Championship title defense off to the perfect start with victory at round one – the Xross Hard Enduro Rally. Delivering four solid days of racing in the Serbian hills, the KTM 300 EXC rider ultimately took the win with a 33-minute advantage.

Marking the first race of this year’s seven-round FIM Hard Enduro World Championship, the Xross Hard Enduro Rally got underway with a short Endurocross-style prologue on the streets of Zlatibor. Three full days of challenging racing then followed, held in the region’s stunning mountains with each of the three legs covering 100 kilometers.

After claiming fourth in the prologue, Manuel Lettenbichler made his intentions for victory clear on Offroad Day One by mastering the wet and demanding conditions to bring his KTM 300 EXC home well over 12 minutes ahead of the rest of the field. A close runner-up result on day two saw Mani finish just five seconds behind Billy Bolt and in doing so the German extended his overall lead to 25 minutes.

Day three dawned with great weather, and once again Lettenbichler demonstrated the skill and speed that took him to the 2022 title with another day win. Topping the timesheets by a further two minutes and 37 seconds, Mani secured the event victory and his place at the top of the FIM Hard Enduro standings.

Manuel Lettenbichler: “It’s been an amazing day for me today. I’m pretty stoked! I’m a little overwhelmed but it’s great to get my championship off to a strong start like this. I’m super happy with my riding all weekend – it’s been consistent, and I’ve enjoyed it quite a bit. Obviously, it’s the best start I could make to this year’s series, but it’s only the first race. We’ve still got a long season ahead, and I’ll just take it all race by race as anything can happen in Hard Enduro, as we often see.”

After a strong start to his Xross campaign with third place in the prologue, FMF KTM Factory Racing’s Trystan Hart endured a day to forget on Thursday (Offroad Day One) where, after drowning his bike in one of the rivers and losing over 20 minutes, he had to settle for sixth place, over 24 minutes down on Lettenbichler. Not giving up, the Canadian pushed hard on days two and three to ultimately secure fourth overall and earn himself 13 important championship points. With round one of the FIM Hard Enduro World Championship ticked off, Hart looks forward to round two and the Red Bull Erzbergrodeo – a race he secured a third-place podium finish at last year.

Trystan Hart: “My last day here in Serbia has been a bit up and down – kind of like the whole race actually. I have to take a lot of positives away though, to be fighting for the podium after drowning my bike so early on the first day shows I have the pace to mix it with these guys. The race here has been amazing – the scenery is beautiful here in the mountains, the organizers have done an excellent job, and the course was really well marked. Honestly, it’s been a sick race. Next up is Erzberg and so my sights are set on one of the biggest events on our calendar. Let’s see what we can do.”

Provisional Results – 2023 Xross Hard Enduro Rally

1. Manuel Lettenbichler (GER), KTM, 9:49:28.60
2. Mario Roman (ESP), Sherco, 10:22:38.10 +33:09.50
3. Teodor Kabakchiev (BUL), KTM, 10:29:04.12 +39:35.52
4. Trystan Hart (CAN), KTM, 10:33:04.42 +43:35.82
5. Michael Walkner (AUT), GASGAS, 10:36:49.98 +47:21.38

Provisional Standings 2023 FIM Hard Enduro World Championship (after round 1)

1. Manuel Lettenbichler (GER), KTM, 20 points
2. Mario Roman (ESP), Sherco, 17 pts
3. Teodor Kabakchiev (BUL), KTM, 15 pts
4. Trystan Hart (CAN), KTM, 14 pts
5. Michael Walkner (AUT), GASGAS, 11 pts