Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s Matthias Walkner has put in another superb performance at the 2021 Rally Kazakhstan to finish as second fastest on stage two, moving himself into the provisional lead of the event. Sam Sunderland also enjoyed a strong showing, placing sixth for sixth overall with three days left to race.
Stage two of the rally was the first half of the event’s marathon stage. With very little in the way of liaison, riders soon entered the day’s 280km timed special that led them east from Aktau towards the temporary bivouac at Kenderly, on the Caspian Sea coast. Starting with open desert, the route turned more technical on the run back down to the finish, testing competitors’ speed and navigation skills. With no outside assistance allowed, and with only 30 minutes to carry out any needed maintenance, riders also had to preserve their machines in order to arrive safely and to be ready for Friday’s stage three.
Showing both impressive pace and consistency as the rally progresses, Matthias Walkner’s hard work is paying off as the Austrian now sits at the top of the provisional standings. Times are close however, and Walkner knows he will have to remain focused in order to successfully defend his lead over the next few days. Enjoying a relatively trouble-free ride on stage two to arrive at the bivouac with both himself and his KTM 450 RALLY in good shape, Matthias will again set off as the second rider tomorrow, for Friday’s stage three. The 2018 Dakar Rally Champion will need to put in another consistent ride to hold off his chasing rivals.
Matthias Walkner: “Another really good day for me, and it was a beautiful stage to race, ending up riding along close to the sea. I started off second, and although setting off early is often a disadvantage, I was able to really focus on my navigation today and thankfully it wasn’t too tricky. I’m feeling extremely comfortable on the bike at the moment, which is great for my confidence, and it meant I was able to find a really good pace for the stage. Again, I finished second, which doesn’t give me the best start position for tomorrow, but if I can do the same again and not make any mistakes, I hopefully won’t lose much time. It feels great to be leading the rally, although it’s very close at the top and there are still three days to go. I’ll keep doing my best each day and keep enjoying it.”
As the seventh rider to enter the day’s stage, Sam Sunderland set off with the goal of making up time on the competitors in front. Pushing hard right from the start, by the one-hour mark, the Brit put himself in the fight for the stage win. A small navigation mistake following the refueling cost him dearly however, with Sunderland dropping back down the order to eighth by the second checkpoint. With much of the remainder of the stage raced over extremely fast pistes and open desert, Sam chose to ease his pace a little in order to conserve his bike and to ensure a safe finish. Ultimately ending the day as sixth fastest, Sunderland will enjoy an advantageous start position for Friday’s stage three – the longest special of the event.
Sam Sunderland: “My day went ok today, I felt great up to the refueling and was probably in the fight for the stage win. After that I came across a tricky note in the road book that caught me out a little with several pistes very close together. I made a small mistake, but it ended up costing me a few minutes. A lot of the stage was extremely fast today, and it was difficult to see properly on the tracks when you’re racing so fast, for so long. I eased off a little just to ensure I didn’t make any massive mistakes as they could be really costly. The goal now is to try and make a bit of a comeback tomorrow. I’ve lost a little time on the leaders over these first couple of days, and I need to claw some of that back. With a good start position for stage three, and a long stage ahead of us, I’m hoping I can chase down the guys in front.”
Rally Kazakhstan continues with the long 533.57km stage three. Returning to the bivouac, and their teams at Aktau, riders will face a 331.83km timed special – the longest of the event. Again, mixed terrain faces all competitors with bike preservation also a major factor in arriving safely at the finish of the demanding stage.
2021 Rally Kazakhstan – Provisional Results, Stage Two
1. Skyler Howes (USA), Husqvarna, 2:39:45
2. Matthias Walkner (AUT), KTM, 2:40:55 +1:10
3. Andrew Short (USA), Yamaha, 2:43:00 +3:15
4. Ross Branch (BWA), Yamaha, 2:44:05 +4:20
5. Adrien Van Beveren (FRA), Yamaha, 2:44:27 +4:42
6. Sam Sunderland (GBR), KTM, 2:44:59 +5:14
2021 Rally Kazakhstan – Provisional Standings (after Stage Two)
1. Matthias Walkner (AUT), KTM, 6:02:59
2. Skyler Howes (USA), Husqvarna, 6:03:21 +0:22
3. Ross Branch (BWA), Yamaha, 6:03:58 +0:59
4. Adrien Van Beveren (FRA), Yamaha, 6:11:47 +8:48
5. Andrew Short (USA), Yamaha, 6:15:38 +12:39
6. Sam Sunderland (GBR), KTM, 6:15:43 +12:44