A shakedown test on Friday saw the team carry out final adjustments to their KTM 450 RALLY machines as the riders reacquainted themselves with the soft sandy terrain in Peru. A series of briefings, scrutineering and administrative checks over the next couple of days lead up to the ceremonial start on Sunday evening.
On Monday January 7, the 41st edition of the rally kicks off with a 331-kilometre opening stage, taking riders from the Peruvian capital city of Lima to Pisco. A short 84-kilometre timed special will give the competitors their first competitive taste of the conditions in the Peruvian desert. Four further days of racing lead up to the rest day in Arequipa on January 12 before the final five stages complete the rally. When the riders arrive back in Lima after the 10th and final stage they will have covered a total of more than 5,500 kilometres and raced close to 3,000 kilometres of timed special.
Reigning Dakar Rally champion Matthias Walkner comes into the event following a strong 2018 season. The Austrian is proud to display the number one on his KTM and is fired up to defend his title over the 10 days of racing.
Matthias Walkner: “I am feeling good going into the event. I was a little ill over the Christmas period, but I’ll be fit and healthy for the race. Preparation up to now has gone really well and I'm looking forward to riding with the number one plate on my bike. I believe riding as number one gives me more motivation than pressure – I think the guys who have never won the event carry more pressure. It’s definitely going to be a different Dakar this year, I normally prefer a wider variety of terrain but I'm keen to give it my all and hopefully claim another good result at the end of the 10 days.”
Following a small crash in testing just over one month ago, Toby Price injured his wrist and faced a huge challenge to be fit enough to race. Despite the setback, the 2018 FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Champion is confident in his strength and plans to fight for the win in Peru.
Toby Price: “Things are looking good here in Lima, the team have been working really hard on the run up to the event and now it’s time for us to deliver. Generally, I'm feeling good and well prepared, my arm isn’t quite 100% perfect - it still gives me some pain from time to time - but I am confident it’s strong enough not to cause me any issues in the race. I really don’t know what to expect from the race, it’s going to be a hard one to judge and we won’t really know how it plays out until we get out there. It’s going to be tough to pull time on the others if you are starting out front as we all know it’s often easier to follow the tracks in front through the sand. Having said that, there is scope for some big mistakes as navigation could prove really tricky. I’m looking forward to the sand to be honest, I ride well in the dunes and it could be a little easier on my wrist.”
2017 Dakar Champion Sam Sunderland has displayed good pace all year and is keen to secure his second title. Fully fit and ready to take on the dunes of Peru, the sand specialist is looking forward to the race.
Sam Sunderland: “I have had a really good final build up to the race and I’m feeling fit and strong. We’ve got a lot of tough kilometres ahead of us but I am excited to get going and see what I can do. Strategy is going to be very important. With so much of the race ridden in the sand, making the most of your start position is going to be huge. The Peruvian dunes are some of the toughest to ride in the world. The light-coloured sand can often be tricky to see properly, especially when the sun is high in the sky – navigation is going to be tricky but massively important. It’s difficult to know exactly what to expect, but I know I will go out there and do my best, as always.”
Riding in the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing team for the first time, Luciano Benavides plans to use the knowledge gained during 2018 to increase his consistency and pace during the 2019 event. Forced to retire from the race last year, the young Argentinian plans to gain even more experience and will be aiming for the top-10.
Luciano Benavides: “Dakar 2019 is a very important race for me – I am feeling good and come into the race with a lot more experience. The most challenging part for this year will be the hot temperatures and the long stages in the big dunes of Peru. I think it will be even harder than last year’s event. After my mistake in 2018, my main goal is to complete the race safely. I love the feeling of freedom you get riding in the desert and I'm looking forward to being cheered on by the people of Peru.”
KTM Factory Racing riders Laia Sanz and Mario Patrao will also be lining up alongside their KTM teammates with the experienced pair both aiming for strong results. The rally marks Laia’s ninth Dakar and for 2019 the popular Spaniard hopes to maintain her 100 percent finishing record at the event.
Laia Sanz: “It’s going to be quite a different Dakar for me this year in a number of ways. Normally at this stage I'm feeling 100 percent fit and know I am ready to take on the event. After falling ill earlier in the year my preparation has not been as good as I would have liked and I am not sure what to expect in the race. It’s certainly going to be tough out here in Peru, but my plan is to take each day as it comes and ride to my strengths. I know my navigation is good and with some strategy I'm hoping for a strong result.”
Mario Patrao, riding for the factory team for the first time, plans to crack the top-10 and support his teammates as best he can. The former Marathon Class winner is fit and ready to go.
Mario Patrao: “I'm fully prepared for the challenge of the Dakar. Physically, I'm in a very good place and I am also happy to have the full support of the KTM team behind me. The stages look like they will be quite tough, but my plan is to take one day at a time. We still have a little preparation to do, but Monday’s stage one will soon be here and I'm looking forward to getting started.”
The final preparations for the 2019 Dakar Rally continue over the weekend with administrative checks carried out on Sunday 6 January, followed by the spectacular ceremonial start. Stage one of the rally commences on Monday 7 January with riders leaving the city of Lima and travelling south to Pisco. An 84-kilometre timed special will open the event with all competitors covering a total of 331 kilometres for the day.