Securing victory at the 2023 Dakar Rally with Kevin Benavides, KTM secured its 19th win at the most grueling and iconic of all off-road events. Not only that, KTM secured an incredible one-two finish with the fight for the win literally going down to the final few kilometers of the two-week-long competition.
It was Kevin Benavides’ incredible consistency and speed over the 14 stages of racing that paid off, with the Argentinian racer coming from 12 seconds behind on the penultimate day to clinch the win after a blinding display of riding on the very final stage. His Red Bull KTM Factory Racing teammate Toby Price, who eventually placed second, can hold his head high, as the two-time Dakar Champion fought right to the finish, ultimately losing out by an agonizing 43 seconds.
The 2023 event will undoubtedly go down in history as one of the toughest ever for a variety of reasons. Riders covered well over 8,000 kilometers in total, and close to 5,000 of them were raced against the clock. If the unforgiving Saudi desert wasn’t tough enough, the heavy rains that fell over the first week of racing threw another challenge into the mix with flooded rivers and muddy lake beds making racing and navigating even tougher. Add that to the two weeks of early mornings and minimal sleep and you end up with not only one of the most physically demanding events in the world, but one of the most mentally draining, too.
The first week of racing at this year’s Dakar went incredibly well for the KTM-mounted desert warriors. Kevin Benavides was lying second overall and was closely followed in third by the young, up-and-coming American Mason Klein. One place behind Mason, Toby Price was less than two minutes behind the leader on what was already shaping up to be one of the tightest Dakars in history. Rounding out the top 10 after stage eight was Matthias Walkner – not the position the Austrian wanted to occupy, but after crashing on day two and injuring his wrist, the fact that he was even able to continue was outstanding.
Going into the second week of racing it was all about the dunes. And while the navigation was perhaps less demanding, the ability to read the terrain became far more important. Mason Klein, who had already topped stage two, unfortunately suffered two crashes on the first day back after the rest day. Although he was able to continue, the injuries he sustained would eventually rule him out of contention. The 21-year-old future star was forced to throw in the towel on day 12. Matthias Walkner was also forced to withdraw one day later when a crash near the start of the special on day 13 resulted in the Austrian being airlifted to hospital. Thankfully Matthias sustained no serious injuries.
At the close of that 13th day, Kevin Benavides, who had topped the timesheets despite stopping to aid the injured Walkner, trailed his teammate Price by just 12 seconds. The Dakar was going to come down to a 138-kilometer sprint on the final day. With the start order reversed for stage 14, Benavides set off second to last, with Price just three minutes behind. The two KTM 450 RALLY riders both gave everything they had over that final special, but there would be just one winner – Kevin Benavides.
With navigation proving critical on the final day of competition, by missing a couple of waypoints and being forced to turn back, Toby Price finished the stage 55 seconds down on Benavides. The final result gave Benavides victory and an incredible 19th Dakar win for KTM. With Price rounding out the top two overall, it was an incredible fortnight of racing for the whole Red Bull KTM Factory Racing team.
Kevin Benavides: “It’s been an amazing day! I just focused on every kilometer from the first to the last. I didn’t think about the position or the result I just gave my 100 percent over the whole stage and tried to enjoy the day. The final special was really fast and tricky, and so muddy – thankfully I didn’t make any big mistakes, but it would have been easy to have an issue out there. I have worked so hard for this. This year’s rally has been one of the closest ever and there wasn’t a single day where you could afford to ease off. I couldn’t have done it without the support of my team, and all my family and friends. It’s going to take a little while to sink in, I can’t describe this feeling right now.”
Toby Price: “So, so close. Yeah, a great job from Kevin, he did really well. I knew it was going to be tight, and of course I pushed right from the start all through the stage. I just missed three waypoints by virtually meters, and it dropped me back. Obviously, the goal is to win, and it’s frustrating to miss out by such a narrow margin. But I’m fit, healthy, and I’m going home with a trophy, so that’s the most important thing. I’m ready for another one next year.”
Norbert Stadlbauer – Rally Team Manager: “It's been an incredible Dakar – one of the toughest in history and definitely the closest! It’s been such a close battle inside the Red Bull KTM team with Toby and Kevin separated by just 12 seconds going into the final day today. Thankfully, the performances of both riders gave KTM a one-two in the race, with Kevin earning his second win and the 19th for KTM. Of course, you can’t have two winners, but Toby claiming second place is still an incredible achievement and down to the hard work he has put in over the two weeks. The team have also done an amazing job, not just at the event, but also over the whole of the past year building up to this race. Now it’s time to celebrate before we look ahead to the next race in the season.”
Pit Beirer, KTM Motorsports Director: “Beside the riders, I’m maybe the happiest man on the planet right now. It’s amazing after this long journey and this tough race, to have only 12 seconds separating the two guys coming into this final day. And then for them to push so hard over the stage and reach the finish line safely and in first and second is incredible. After around 5,000 kilometers and over 40 hours of racing, to have them so close is unheard of, and the whole team did an amazing job to get them here in this position. What it came down to was basically a motocross race for 130 kilometers. Both riders did an amazing job, and even though you can only have one winner, I’m hugely proud of them both, as the pressure was really on today. KTM now have 19 wins at the toughest offroad race in the world, but we won't stop there. We're already looking forward to this season and then the 2024 Dakar next year.”
Overall Standings – 2023 Dakar Rally
1. Kevin Benavides (ARG), KTM, 44:27:20
2. Toby Price (AUS), KTM, 44:28:03 +0:43
3. Skyler Howes (USA), Husqvarna, 44:32:24 +5:04
4. Pablo Quintanilla (CHI), Honda, 44:46:22 +19:02
5. Adrien Van Beveren (FRA), Honda, 44:47:50 +20:30