Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s Kevin Benavides has made a strong start to the 2022 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge by placing third on the 297-kilometer opening stage. After posting the joint-fastest time on the event’s prologue yesterday, Matthias Walkner claimed fifth on stage one, with teammate Toby Price fighting back from a disrupted start to ultimately claim eighth.

Less than two months after the completion of the Dakar Rally, Red Bull KTM are back in action at the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge. The event opened with a short, two-kilometer prologue sprint to decide the starting order for today, Sunday’s, stage one. With the team taking the top three spots in the RallyGP category, all three riders enjoyed an advantageous choice of start position for the opening leg of the race.

It was Kevin Benavides who came out as the top KTM rider on stage one from the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi to Hameem. Taking a measured approach to the 262-kilometer times special, the Argentinian was able to increase his speed towards the end of the stage to claim third at the finish. The result puts the 2021 Dakar Champion in a good position for Monday’s stage two.

Kevin Benavides: “It feels good to get the race started. It was a really physical day today with plenty of dunes, but the bike felt good and after taking some time to get comfortable, I was able to really push towards the end of the stage. Hopefully, if I can keep this momentum up for the rest of the event, I should be able to secure a solid result. I start third tomorrow, so it gives me a good chance to chase down the two guys in front.”

Matthias Walkner has also got his ADDC off to a strong start, going quickest on the prologue before backing up that performance with a fifth-place finish on stage one. Walkner will be the fifth rider to enter stage two – the first leg of this year’s marathon stage – and as such will be looking to push to make up time on those ahead, while also conserving himself and his KTM 450 RALLY for what promises to be a challenging couple of days in the desert.

Matthias Walkner: “Yeah it was a nice first day for me. It was quite hot out there, but the terrain was good fun to ride with some cool dunes. The times are really close, and I think I have a good starting position for tomorrow. In the end, it’s only the first stage, but I’m happy with my riding, happy with how the stage went, and the bike is working really nicely in the sand, so everything is looking good for stage two.”

Arriving at the start of today’s special, Toby Price was found to have an issue with the GPS equipment on his bike. The time taken to replace the unit dropped the Australian down the start order, forcing him to set off as the 32nd rider into the special. Despite the disadvantage, Price remained focused and delivered an excellent performance to ultimately complete the stage eighth quickest. Similarly to his teammates, Toby will be looking to make up time on his rivals on Monday’s 453-kilometer stage two – the longest of this year’s event.

Toby Price: “It’s been a frustrating start to the rally for me – not ideal at all. There was an issue with my GPS this morning and it wouldn’t validate any waypoints. The organizers had to change the whole system before the start of the special, which dropped me right down the start order and had me playing catch-up all day. It’s tough when you’re back there because you are riding on your own for a lot of the time and you’re unsure what’s going on around you. I was able to post a pretty good time, so I’ll keep pushing tomorrow and hopefully get back up where I need to be.”

Stage two of the 2022 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge covers a total distance of 453 kilometers, 316 of which will be timed special. The stage marks the first leg of the event’s marathon stage, where no outside assistance is permitted overnight.

Provisional Results – Stage 1 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge 2022

1. Sam Sunderland (GBR), GASGAS, 3:18:32
2. Pablo Quintanilla (CHI), Honda, 3:20:34
3. Kevin Benavides (ARG), KTM, 3:20:43
4. Michael Docherty (ZAF), Husqvarna, 3:20:46
5. Matthias Walkner (AUT), KTM, 3:21:09
Other KTM
8. Toby Price (AUS, KTM, 3:23:58

Provisional Standings – Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge 2022 after 1 of 5 stages

1. Michael Docherty (ZAF), Husqvarna, 3:41:02
2. Matthias Walkner (AUT), KTM, 3:41:25
3. Kevin Benavides (ARG), KTM, 3:41:39
4. Sam Sunderland (GBR), GASGAS, 3:42:00
5. Ignacio Cornejo (CHI), Honda, 3:43:08
Other KTM
7. Toby Price (AUS), KTM, 3:44:22