The three-man Red Bull KTM Factory Racing team of Matthias Walkner, Toby Price, and Kevin Benavides have successfully completed their pre-event shakedown and final administration tasks and are ready for the first stage of the 2022 Dakar Rally, which takes place tomorrow, January 1. Joining the three former race winners, KTM Factory Racing’s Danilo Petrucci will make his competitive rally debut.
Celebrating its 44th edition in 2022, this year’s Dakar Rally will be held in the Middle East for the third consecutive year and cover a grueling total distance of 8,106 kilometers. Split into 12 full stages, day one of the event, held on January 1 and named Stage 1A, will see riders face a short, 19-kilometer timed Prologue held midway between the ceremonial start of the race in Jeddah and the first bivouac in Ha’il – a route that measures 609 kilometers.
On Sunday, January 2, the first true test of the event takes place with Stage 1B – a 514km looped route that includes the first ‘proper’ timed special at 333 kilometers. As competitors make their way towards the rest day on Saturday, January 8, they will face a marathon stage held in the area close to Riyadh, where no outside assistance is permitted.
The second week of the Dakar often proves the toughest, and for 2022 it also looks to be the case. Riders head out from Riyadh on their way back to the finish line at Jeddah but first have to cover close to 4,000 kilometers and some of the most technically demanding timed specials of the event.
In what will be his eighth appearance at the Dakar, reigning FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Champion Matthias Walkner comes into the 2022 race looking to maintain his strong, consistent run of form. Knowing full well what it takes to claim victory at the event, the 2018 winner is aiming to arrive safely at the rest day before pushing hard in the latter half of the race to try and secure his second Dakar title.
Matthias Walkner: “The shakedown is done – I was really happy to get back on the bike here in Saudi Arabia. Now all the concentration and hard work from the last few months are really coming together as we get close to the start of our big race. I felt a little strange on the bike at first because it has been almost two weeks with no riding, but I was soon able to get comfortable and test quite a few settings. I tried to put in as many kilometers as I could in the short session, and all felt good. Soon, we’ll face the Prologue and the rest of the first stage and have a better idea of how things are. But for now, I’m just looking forward to starting the race.”
A year recovering from injury saw Toby Price off his bike for much of the 2021 season. However, now close to being fully fit, the Aussie is looking forward to taking on another Dakar challenge. Confident that the testing and development done to the new KTM 450 RALLY over the course of the year will pay off, Price is very much focused on securing his third victory at the Dakar.
Toby Price: “Yeah, the shakedown today went really well. The Red Bull KTM bike is feeling really good at the moment and I’m just super keen to get the race underway now. The event itself is looking like it’s going to be a really tough 12 days in the desert and a massive test as per usual. I need to make sure I stay consistent, try and make it to the rest day in a good position and then see what the second week brings.”
Ready to make his Dakar debut for Red Bull KTM Factory Racing, 2021 champion Kevin Benavides is confident of further success at the 2022 event. Quickly settling in with the team and finding the KTM 450 RALLY very much to his liking, the Argentinian star is keen to make it two-in-a-row at the world’s toughest cross-country rally.
Kevin Benavides: “The shakedown was really good. I have been waiting a long time to get it done because after all the work we have done on the new bike, it’s really important to give it a final test in the sort of terrain we’re going to face. I enjoyed the shakedown, and the bike feels really good – I immediately had a good connection with the bike and was able to test a lot of things. The bike is definitely on-point with the suspension and the engine and everything. Now it’s time to get everything prepared, focus on the race, and start the show.”
Former MotoGP™ star Danilo Petrucci has endured a tough time in the run up to the 2022 Dakar. After injuring his ankle in a practice crash just weeks before the race, he then produced a positive Covid test after arriving in Jeddah that put his participation in doubt. Thankfully, a further blood test showed negative infection and the likeable Italian has been cleared to take part, riding his Tech3 KTM Factory Racing rally bike.
Danilo Petrucci: “After a really difficult couple of days I am finally allowed to race. I was on my bike at the shakedown when I received the message that my Covid test had come back positive. Thankfully, a blood test returned a negative result, and I was cleared to compete. I still need to take a lot of care, especially with my ankle, but I’m really looking forward to the race now. I want to say a big thank you to all the team for their help over the past week, too.”