The three-man Red Bull KTM Factory Racing team have successfully completed the opening stage of the 2023 Sonora Rally. Mastering the rough Mexican tracks, Matthias Walkner placed as top KTM in fourth, followed by Kevin Benavides in 11th. Early front runner Toby Price fought back from a navigational mistake, which resulted in him losing around eight minutes, to complete the day in 15th.
Sunday’s short 10-kilometer prologue gave riders their first taste of the Sonoran terrain with the results used to decide the start order for stage one of the rally. Totaling 335 kilometers and including a timed special of 170 kilometers, today’s opening stage challenged competitors with a route made up predominantly of fast, gravel tracks.
Returning to competition at the Sonora Rally following the injury that cruelly forced him to withdraw from the Dakar Rally on the penultimate stage, Matthias Walkner put in an impressive ride to fourth place on stage one. The experienced Austrian immediately felt comfortable on the rocky tracks and was able to push hard for the entire stage. Walkner also lies in a provisional fourth overall and will be looking to make the most of his start position on Tuesday’s long stage two.
Matthias Walkner: “It felt so cool to be back racing again. I wasn’t off the bike for too long before coming here to Mexico, so I think I was able to find my rhythm quite quickly, and everything felt good on the bike. It was quite a short stage today, but it was super-fast and a load of fun to ride. The terrain was a mixture of sand, hard-pack, and some rocky tracks. It was tricky, but I’m super happy with how I rode.”
Just two months after breaking his femur in the shakedown to the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, Kevin Benavides returned to action with a solid ride to 11th place on stage one in Mexico. With his focus purely on securing a good, safe finish to the event, Kevin was happy with how he rode during the opening day.
Kevin Benavides: “Today was the first real day of the race, because the prologue was so short. I took it a little easy at first because I didn’t know how I would feel, but thankfully I had no pain or anything like that, so I was able to ride at a good speed. I made one mistake with the navigation, which cost me some minutes, but overall I’m really happy to have completed the stage as that’s the first one ticked off since my crash. The desert here is really nice, it’s quite open but with a lot of trees and bushes. Tomorrow, we’re heading north and will see the first of the dunes here in Mexico.”
Fast out of the blocks this morning and charging hard, Toby Price unfortunately made a small error in his navigation, which ended up costing the Australian over eight minutes on the leaders. Nevertheless, using his skill and experience, Toby put the error behind him and pushed on to the finish, ultimately completing the special in 15th place, just less than eight minutes behind the provisional stage winner.
Toby Price: “Rough day for me. Everything felt good at the start and then at about kilometer 40, I made a mistake, missed a cap, and managed to head off in the wrong direction. It ended up costing me seven or eight minutes, so not the best way to start the rally. There’s still four days to go, so I’ll get my head down and see what tomorrow brings.”
Tomorrow’s stage two will see riders face a total distance of 541 kilometers, including a timed special of 286 kilometers. A variety of terrain awaits the riders, including the first experience of Mexican dunes as they make their way from Hermosillo to Penasco.
Provisional Results – 2023 Sonora Rally, Stage 1
1. Tosha Schareina (ESP), Honda, 1:33:25
2. Daniel Sanders (AUS), GASGAS, 1:33:31 +0:06
3. Pablo Quintanilla (CHI), Honda, 1:34:06 +0:41
4. Matthias Walkner (AUT), KTM, 1:34:31 +1:06
5. Sam Sunderland (GBR), GASGAS, 1:35:29 +2:04
11. Kevin Benavides (ARG), KTM, 1:38:30 +5:05
15. Toby Price (AUS), KTM, 1:41:10 +7:45
Provisional Standings – 2023 Sonora Rally (after 1 of 5 stages)
1. Tosha Schareina (ESP), Honda, 2:17:57
2. Daniel Sanders (AUS), GASGAS, 2:18:51 +0:54
3. Pablo Quintanilla (CHI), Honda, 2:19:26 +1:29
4. Matthias Walkner (AUT), KTM, 2:20:15 +2:18
5. Luciano Benavides (ARG), Husqvarna, 2:20:18 +2:21
11. Kevin Benavides (ARG), KTM, 2:23:42 +5:45
12. Toby Price (AUS), KTM, 2:24:54 +6:57