The 2018 FIM Cross Country Rallies World Championship returns to competitive action next week in Chile, with the Atacama Rally kicking off with a short prologue on Monday. Following on from the prologue will be five stages covering around 1700km of which just over 1300km is timed specials. The Factory teams are present as “race testing” clicks up a few gears in preparation for the 2019 Dakar Rally.
Following their victorious outing at the season opener in Abu Dhabi, the Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing Team are all set to make their return this coming week. Playing host to the third round of the 2018 series, the rally will allow Pablo Quintanilla and Andrew Short to go head-to-head against the international elite of rally racers in preparation for the coming Dakar Rally in January, 2019.
Winner of the opening round of the 2018 series in Abu Dhabi, Quintanilla has his eyes set on successfully defending his FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship title for the third consecutive season and as the reigning Atacama Rally champion, Pablo can’t wait to get things going at this 2018 edition of the event.
Working hard during the last few months to improve in every little detail of his riding and navigation, Andrew Short will be looking to for a good overall placement at his first Atacama Rally this coming week. A strong asset for the Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing team, the former motocross/supercross star is really looking forward to the challenge.
Daniel Trauner – Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing Rally team manager:
“We are more than ready for the Atacama Rally challenge. Pablo and Andrew have been both working a lot for this event and we can’t wait to see them back racing their rally machines. Our main goal this season is to the retain our World Championship and we will do all we can to help Pablo win this title for a third consecutive season. Back to full fitness following a minor injury he sustained while training in Spain, Pablo is really looking forward to this race on his home Chilean soil. Pablo spent the last couple of weeks training hard on his Husqvarna. Taking advantage of his vast experience in multi-stage rallies, we believe a spot on the Atacama Rally podium is well within Pablo’s reach and will allow him to regain the lead in the provisional championship standings. As for Andrew, he’s been working really hard back in the US to improve his navigational skills and his speed in the long stages. We want to see him gradually close the time gap to the top riders on each stage. He’s been making some good progress and getting some well-needed experience and we are all confident he will keep improving day by day at this event. The level here at the Atacama Rally will be quite elevated this year and this will be a good chance to test ourselves against the best rally riders and teams in the world in preparation for the 2019 Dakar Rally.”
Following on from a strong start to the season, the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing trio of Sam Sunderland, Matthias Walkner and Toby Price will be keen to score valuable points as well as spend time on their KTM 450 RALLY machines in preparation for the 2019 Dakar Rally.
The condensed route, centred around the Chilean mining town of Copiapó will see competitors contest five full stages of racing, totalling over 1,300 kilometres, with the benefit of having a lot less mileage to cover in liaison sections. The riders won’t have it easy however – a lack of rain in the area has left the desert dry and without the usual vegetation, making navigation even tougher for all. All three Red Bull KTM Factory Racing team members contesting the 2018 Atacama are former Dakar Rally winners; Price in 2016, Sunderland 2017 and Walkner the current Dakar Rally reigning champion. Each rider is aiming to add to their current world championship points tally with just three rounds remaining. KTM Rally Sport Manager Jordi Viladoms knows the significance of the Atacama Rally in terms of both the World Championship and perhaps more importantly, preparation for the 2019 Dakar Rally.
Jordi Viladoms – KTM Rally Sport Manager: “The aim going into these last few cross-country races of the season is to win the world championship and bring all the riders back up to speed for the Dakar. The Atacama has been tricky in the past for the team, we are also up against the current world champion at his home rally. We saw last year navigation was tough and the road book was difficult to follow in places, so minimising mistakes in Chile is paramount for all riders. We have carried out some successful testing on the bike this year, but we now have to focus on the sandy conditions that will be seen throughout the 2019 Dakar – some of the Atacama stages will be perfect for this so we need to gain all the knowledge we can here in Chile.”
The Monster Energy Honda Team will also be back in action, fielding a full five man squad of Kevin Benavides, Paulo Gonçalves, Joan Barreda, Ricky Brabec and Nacho Cornejoto.
Four months have elapsed since the Monster Energy Honda Team competed in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, The squad’s Argentine rider made it onto the podium on that occasion, while Gonçalves finished fifth and Brabec sixth. Nacho Cornejo became the top junior with an eighth overall place in the Middle East race.
Joan Barreda, after recovering from the wrist operation he had undergone in mid-February, returned to competition at the Merzouga Rally in April, where he made off with a hard-fought victory, while Benavides added to the team’s successes with second place on the rostrum alongside his team-mate.
Raul Castells – Monster Energy Honda Team Manager: “We are very happy to be back in action. We have reached the most decisive point of the season, with three races practically back to back in South America which will be very important for our riders to prepare for the Dakar Rally. Here in Chile, in the Atacama, there will be a lot of sand and a lot of dunes which will be a favourable element get to grips with the kind of conditions that we can expect in January. Four months have passed since the most recent world championship race and in this second race for the Monster Energy Honda Team, we will try and be in the battle for the victory to keep all our options open, as much for Kevin Benavides and Paulo Gonçalves, as for the rest of the team: Joan Barreda, Ricky Brabec and Nacho Cornejo. I wish to thank Honda Motor de Chile for their great support and collaboration in our preparation for this race.”
The trio of Yamalube Yamaha Official Rally Team riders Adrien Van Beveren, Xavier de Soultrait and Franco Caimi are all-set to contest the six-day-long Rally.
Working hard to get back to full competitive fitness following his injury last January, Adrien Van Beveren is looking at gradually building on the impressive speed that saw him as one of the revelations of the 2018 Dakar Rally. Looking forward to some challenging racing miles aboard his WR450F Rally machine in Chile, the Frenchman wants to continue improving in all aspects of his riding and navigation ahead of the coming edition of the Dakar.
Feeling physically and mentally strong, Xavier de Soultrait will be a force to be reckoned with this coming week in the dunes of Chile. Undergoing surgery shortly after the 2018 Dakar, Xavier has been back training on his Yamaha since April. Taking his time to return to full fitness, Xavier is highly motivated to go after a good overall result at this coming edition of the Atacama Rally.
Following his highly positive fourth place result at the Merzouga Rally back in April, Franco Caimi will be looking to go even higher at the 2018 Atacama Rally. Working hard during the last few months to further improve his speed and navigation, the rider from Argentina will be a strong asset for the Yamalube Yamaha Official Rally Team this coming week in Chile.
Adrien Van Beveren: “I am really looking forward to start racing again. After my latest collarbone surgery, I got back on the bike in the middle of July and since then I have been training and working hard. Even before that I had been cycling a lot so my physical conditioning was really good. Despite staying away from my bike for six months I immediately started feeling well and I have been getting stronger each day. I am strong technically and I am enjoying every day back on my Yamaha. Even though I was not obliged to race the Atacama Rally, we decided to give it a go. Without any pressure, the goal is to get a good feeling and see how we can improve from that. The major goal for me is the 2019 Dakar and this is where I am totally focused. We learned a lot last year and I truly believe that if it all goes well I can be out there battling for victory next January. For the Atacama Rally, I want to take things one step at a time. I’ve been training in Spain for the last couple weeks, but nothing compares to racing against the best riders in the world in proper rally conditions. Chile is an awesome place to race a motorcycle and I can’t wait for this rally to begin.”
Xavier de Soultrait: “I feel great on my bike at the moment and I can’t wait for the race to begin. Following my injury during the Dakar I had an operation and stayed away from training for 10 weeks. I got back on my bike in April and since then I feel stronger every day that goes by. The operation went quite well and I took my time to properly recover so there was no pain when I got back on the bike. Since then I’ve been training and testing with the team in Morocco, Chile, Spain and in France and I feel very strong at the moment. We’ve made some good improvements on the bike and I worked a lot also to improve my weaker points. The Atacama Rally will be my first race for this new season and I am really looking forward to it. Last year I was battling for the top three and ended up finishing fifth overall. We expect competition to be elevated again this year, so it will be a great chance to test ourselves in tough conditions. The Atacama Rally will be a good test in preparation for the upcoming Dakar. I really thing a podium result is within our goals in Chile.”
Franco Caimi: “I’ve been working really hard during the last few months and I can’t wait for the Atacama Rally to begin. I made some changes in my training schedule recently and I feel stronger than ever both physically and mentally. I’ve also been putting some good miles on my WR450F Rally machine back home in Argentina and I’m really confident to push now. Back in April we came close to securing a podium result at the Merzouga Rally and this gave me some extra motivation to keep working harder than ever. My speed in Morocco was good and I worked hard to improve the minor details. It’s also great to have Adrien and Xavier back racing with us. The atmosphere in our team is great and it’s such a pleasure racing alongside them. For me, the more miles I put on my rally bike the more comfortable I feel. With all top riders taking part this year, the Atacama Rally will be a big challenge but I want to push for a good result. I feel great at the moment and I am really motivated to do well here in Chile.”
Alexandre Kowalski -Yamalube Yamaha Official Rally Team Director: “We’re more than ready to kick off this final part of our preparation ahead of the coming Dakar Rally. We’re really happy to have Adrien and Xavier back racing with us. Following their injuries at the previous Dakar, they will join Franco for this Atacama Rally. With the elite of international rally racers taking part at the event, the Atacama Rally will be a great opportunity to challenge ourselves and test new solutions. We want to allow our racers to get as much time as possible racing their WR450F Rally machines in really challenging conditions. At the 2018 Dakar we proved we have a really competitive motorcycle and now it’s time to make further steps forward with the evolution of our rally machine. Featuring demanding navigation in the Chilean dunes the Atacama Rally will be a big challenge for all, but we are really looking forward to it.”