Red Bull KTM Factory Racing riders have completed an extremely successful first week at the 2021 Dakar Rally. Toby Price leads the overall provisional standings, with Sam Sunderland in sixth. Matthias Walkner suffered a technical issue on stage two but has since delivered strong performances to move himself back up the leaderboard, sitting just outside the top 20. KTM Factory Racing’s Daniel Sanders has impressed throughout the first six days to claim two top-three results on his way to 12th overall.
Saturday at the Dakar means rest day. In what has been an extremely tough rally so far, due in part to the increased level of technical navigation and the wide variety of terrain faced by the riders, all four factory KTM stars will be thankful for a day off the bike to recover both physically and mentally.
With accurate navigation playing a huge part in this year’s race, the leaderboard has seen huge swings with previous stage winners often losing up to 20 minutes when leading out the next day. Consistency, and the minimization of mistakes, has proved to be key to earning a place in the top 10 of the overall standings.
Demonstrating great speed over the course of the first week, Toby Price sits at the top of the general rankings, just over two minutes ahead of his nearest rival. In fact, the top seven competitors are separated by just over six minutes after well over 2,000km of racing against the clock.
By putting in consistent performances over all of the first six stages of the event, Sam Sunderland has avoided the yo-yo effect seen by some of his competitors. The tactic has paid off with the Brit lying sixth overall, just over four minutes down on Price.
Matthias Walkner has shown incredible pace on some of the most challenging stages so far this year. Unfortunately, a technical issue on the second day resulted in the Austrian losing over two hours, making it extremely difficult for him to challenge for the top positions. Never one to give up, Matthias immediately got his head down over the next few stages to fight his way back to a highly commendable 22nd overall at the halfway stage.
In only his second ever cross-country rally, KTM Factory Racing’s Daniel Sanders has already claimed two top-three stage results. Demonstrating immense speed over the faster terrain, the young Australian has also held his own when navigation has proved critical, even when riding in the leading group. Despite a seven-minute penalty earned near the beginning of the race, Sanders lies 12th in the standings and top rookie by a considerable margin.
Jordi Viladoms – KTM Rally Team Manager: “For the team it’s been a really good first week. Right from the start it’s been hard to predict the stages that will be difficult and the ones that won’t, and then to work out which stages to try and open and perhaps what stages are best to start from behind. Of course, we set out to use some strategy and thankfully that has worked out so far. We have been lucky that on the whole things have worked out well for us as there has been some very tricky navigation in some of the stages, but our riders have all performed excellently and delivered strong results where it counts. There are many riders who are capable of setting a strong pace and even winning stages, so the swings in the results have been quite big this year. Despite that, now, at the halfway stage, the overall standings are very close, and it just goes to show that even a small unforced error could mean a huge difference to the results. I am really happy with the whole team and right now, on the rest day, my feelings compared to last year are completely different. The riders are all in good shape, the bike is working well, and the team is doing an amazing job. Looking ahead to next week, it’s difficult to predict what each stage will be like, but for sure, there will be some very challenging stages ahead of us. We know anything can happen, but we’re still in the fight and I know the whole team will do their very best over the next week.”
The six final days of the 2021 Dakar Rally continue with the 737km first half of the event’s marathon stage. Made up primarily of mountainous dunes and sand tracks, the long 471km timed special will be tough on man and machine. Riders will have to take extra care to not incur any damage to their bikes as no outside assistance is allowed when they reach the bivouac in Sakaka.
Provisional Standings (after stage six) – 2021 Dakar Rally
1. Toby Price (AUS), KTM, 24:08:43
2. Kevin Benavides (ARG), Honda, 24:10:59 +2:16
3. Jose Ignacio Cornejo (CHL), Honda, 24:11:40 2:57
4. Ross Branch (BWA), Yamaha, 24:12:24 3:41
5. Xavier de Soultrait (FRA), Husqvarna, 24:12:24 +3:41
6. Sam Sunderland (GBR), KTM, 24:13:06 4:23
12. Daniel Sanders (AUS), KTM, 24:26:44 18:01
22. Matthias Walkner (AUT), KTM, 26:20:20 +2:11:37