The 2019 Dakar Rally is just over a week away and we take a look at what the top factory riders had to say ahead of the gruelling race, based solely in Peru and covering more than 5000km over 10 stages from January 6th-17th. Will KTM be able to extend their win streak to 18 in a row? Or will Husqvarna, Honda or Yamaha be able to topple the orange juggernaut from the top of the podium? One thing is for certain, come January 6th, all eyes in the world of motorsport will be firmly fixed on Lima.
Following an incredible season, that saw Matthias Walkner crowned 2018 Dakar Rally Champion and Toby Price crowned FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Champion, the focus has now switched firmly back to the Dakar and the 2019 event that kicks off on January 6.
Looking to defend his 2018 Dakar title, Matthias Walkner will head to Peru with his confidence high. Despite a tricky start to this year’s world championship campaign, Walkner soon found his rhythm onboard his KTM 450 RALLY. Strong finishes at the final few rounds of the season, including runner-up results at the Desafio Inka and Rallye du Maroc, showed that the Austrian rider is on form and ready to take on the Dakar once more.
Matthias Walkner: “I’m looking forward to getting back on the bike in Peru and racing to defend my title. There is a little bit of added pressure for me but my plan is exactly the same as always – stay safe and do my best at the event. It’s difficult to know how things will be with the race held in just one country and with so much of it in the sand. Strategy will be very important as your start position for the day can make a huge difference to the results. I believe it will be very close with a lot of guys fighting for the win, but if everything goes to plan and I can keep to a consistent pace, I would hope for at least another podium finish.”
Similarly to his teammate Walkner, Price endured a challenging start to his 2018 season with some bad fortune and mixed results hampering his championship hopes. However, a charge in the latter half of the year took the Australian to victory at the final round in Morocco and with it he secured his first ever world championship. The 2016 Dakar champion aims to carry that form into Peru and the fast-approaching 2019 event.
Toby Price: “2018 has been an incredible year for me. Finishing the Dakar on the podium in third after only just coming back from injury was great. The world championship didn’t start quite like I would have hoped, but I was able to keep my head together, stay consistent and the results finally came. Everything clicked in Morocco at that final round and I’m hoping for something similar in Peru. It’s going to be a bit of a strange Dakar, the route looks like about 70 percent is in the dunes and it’s going to be a real challenge, certainly no time to relax. In the past there have been days where you can pace yourself and still get a good result by concentrating on navigation and riding smooth – on this one I think it’s going to be flat-out from the very beginning.”
Forced to retire from the 2018 Dakar due to injury, Sam Sunderland was soon back on a bike and fighting for the win at the first round of the world championship in Abu Dhabi. As the season moved on to Chile, Sam was again battling for victory when a further injury caused him to miss the next few races. Regrouping for the final round in Morocco, and despite a tyre issue causing him to lose time early on, the Brit’s pace was impressive in the sand with Sam taking a stage win. Pleased with his speed on the bike, Sunderland has also been working on his overall fitness for what looks to be one of the most intense Dakar Rallies to date.
Sam Sunderland: “As we get closer to Dakar now, I’m feeling really good. I’m happy with how I am riding and confident in my navigation. I know this year in Peru it’s going to be very physically demanding, so I have been working very hard on my training to be in the best shape when the race starts in January. It’s definitely good for me that we have 10 days in the dunes. I love riding that sort of terrain and seem to have good pace there. Whether it will fall in my favour I don’t know. Anything can happen in rallies as we know and you can’t predict a race like Dakar. This year I did have a six-minute lead after Peru so that is encouraging, but the plan is the usual – take each day as it comes.”
Riding the full Red Bull liveried KTM 450 RALLY for the first time at Dakar 2019, Luciano Benavides is hoping to make up for his early departure from the 2018 event with a strong result in Peru. Following five tough months of recovery, Benavides returned to competition at his home race – the Desafio Ruta 40 in Argentina – to place an excellent sixth. Concentrating on his navigation and strategy during the final rounds of the year, the number 77 will be looking to build on his experience and complete his first Dakar Rally.
Luciano Benavides: “It’s an honour to ride with the Red Bull colours on the bike. It carries a lot of responsibility and some added pressure, especially as I am riding with three Dakar champions. But I will try my best to turn that into motivation to do well. My first goal is simply to finish, as I had to drop out this year. My second goal is to finish inside the top-10. I know that will be tough and I think with the shorter rally in 2019 it will be even tougher, but I know I have the pace to do so. My crash this year came from a lack of focus, so I need to change that for January. I have spent a lot of time working on my navigation and strategy so hopefully it will all pay off.”
Joining the four-rider Red Bull KTM Factory Racing team in Peru will be Laia Sanz and Mario Patrao. The two KTM Factory Racing riders will both be gunning for strong results at the 2019 Dakar Rally. Sanz will be returning to competition proper following her recent fight with the Epstein Barr virus. Patrao will be racing his first Dakar for the factory team and hopes to be able to support the rest of the squad by riding a solid, consistent Dakar in what looks to be a shorter, but no-less brutal race.
Two-time FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Champion Pablo Quintanilla will head to Peru following a stellar season of international rally competition. Battling for victory in each rally he participated in during 2018, Pablo wrapped up the year as the FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship runner-up. Entering what will be the seventh Dakar of his career in 2019, the Chilean rally star will launch his attack for the top step of the podium in Lima.
Pablo Quintanilla: “I really want to do well at the coming Dakar. I feel great and my motivation is really high for 2019. I want to be the best I can be and battle for the best possible result of my career. I had a good season in 2018 and now I am ready for the Dakar. Despite my injury midway through the season, I managed to keep battling for the championship until the very last stage in Morocco. The Dakar is the most important race of the season and we are all working hard throughout the year for this race. My personal goal is to be giving 100% of my effort on each day and in each stage. This is what will make me happy and will also allow me to battle for the overall victory. My priority is to take one day at a time, trying to stay focused on my goals and also trying to enjoy what I am doing. The 2019 Dakar will be shorter and more intense, but I want to do my job and race for the win.”
Putting in considerable racing kilometres aboard his FR 450 Rally in 2018, Andrew Short has gained valuable knowledge during his first full year of rally competition and is fired up for success in what will be his second participation in the Dakar Rally. Looking to make use of the experience he’s acquired, the American will be eyeing a good overall result in Peru in January.
Andrew Short: “I’ve learned a lot during the 2018 season and now I’m ready to put this experience to good use at the Dakar. The season started for me in Morocco with the Merzouga Rally and since then we’ve also raced in Chile and Peru. I had some good race time and was able to study the strategy of the top guys. I saw how fast they can go in specific sections and kept improving my speed while navigating correctly. In Peru, I was able to battle with them all the way to the finish and I was happy to get my first podium in rally racing. It gives me extra confidence knowing that the 2019 Dakar will take place in Peru. I am looking forward to going back racing in the massive Peruvian dunes. My goal for the coming Dakar is not on a number or place, it’s just to continue to race with the top guys. I want to be even more competitive in January and be as close as possible to the front.”
Pela Renet – Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing Rally Team Manager: “We had a very strong season and our riders are in top form going into the coming Dakar. In 2018 Pablo was battling for victories in every race he took part in. We want him to maintain that same momentum heading to Peru. We know he has the experience and speed to battle for victory and we will do everything possible to make it happen for him. As for Andrew, he earned his first podium in Peru in September and he is feeling comfortable racing in sandy conditions. We want to see him continue making progress in 2019. The atmosphere within our team is great and our riders are happy with the performance of our rally bikes. With the coming Dakar featuring just 10 stages, we expect the pace to be high. It’ll be an intense race for everyone.”
Yamalube Yamaha Rally team riders are all-set to take on the 2019 Dakar aboard the newest edition of the WR450F Rally works machine.
Spearheading the team’s efforts for yet another year is Adrien Van Beveren. One of the revelations of the 2018 Dakar Rally, Adrien is eager to impress by fighting for the overall victory next January. At the top of his game following months of hard work, the French rider is now ready to do battle in the dunes of Peru.
Adrien van Beveren: “I couldn’t be any happier with how things have worked out the last few months. I had some good weeks of training on and off the bike and I feel I’ve made a big step going into the Dakar. Physically I feel even stronger than last year and I just want to work on some minor details before heading to Peru. Race organisers announced there’ll be more than 90% of dune stages. I love racing in sand so I feel really comfortable going into this rally. With the race being shorter and more intense than in the past, I believe the level of competition will be quite high. These conditions really suit my style of racing and I really can’t wait to take the start of the race in Lima.”
Putting in many thousands of racing and training kilometres aboard his WR450F Rally machine in 2018, Xavier de Soultrait is set to enter the fifth Dakar Rally of his career this coming January. Working hard to further improve his navigational skills, the Frenchman has his eyes set on climbing onto the podium in Lima.
Xavier de Soultrait: “If the race started tomorrow, I’m happy to say I’d be 100% ready for it. These last few months I’ve been working hard, riding my rally bike in the sand in France and elsewhere. Physically I feel strong and I’ve also worked a lot on navigation. Last year I had a very good first week in the dunes of Peru. We’ve done a couple of races there now so I am feeling comfortable with the terrain and the conditions in the area. The next Dakar will be shorter and I like this new format. We’ve made some small changes to the gearing and the suspension and our bike now is perfect for the conditions we expect to have. I’ve studied the stages a lot and made my plans for each one of them. If it all goes well I believe I have a good chance to be among the frontrunners and battle for a good overall result in Peru.”
Playing a crucial role for the Yamalube Yamaha Rally team during the last two Dakar Rallies, Rodney Faggotter remains with the squad going into the 2019 edition of the event. Enjoying an extremely consistent run that saw him finish 16th overall at the 2018 Dakar Rally, the Aussie will look to improve on this result in January 2019.
Rodney Faggoter: “I’m looking forward to the 2019 Dakar. I’ve been racing some Bajas and training hard back home in Australia these last few months. I feel strong physically and also mentally. In the beginning of December we’ve spent a full week testing and training with the team in Morocco and that was a good morale booster for me. We have a great spirit within the team and I want to be there for my teammates if they need me. I want to have a good clean run and do my own race. This Dakar might seem shorter, but we all know it’s still going to be a long and demanding race. If it all goes well, I’m confident I can improve my overall result from last year and fight for a spot inside the top-10.”
With the team 100% ready to have Franco Caimi enter the 2019 Dakar Rally, his participation will be decided just before the start of the race. Doing everything possible to return to full fitness following his injury during the Morocco Rally, the rider from Argentina is expecting to undergo his last medical checks just a few days before the start of the event.
Franco Caimi: “I’ve been working really hard to get back to fitness and I’m getting stronger and stronger every day. Ever since I came back home to Argentina after my injury in Morocco, I’ve been closely following the plan that my doctors together with my trainers have set for me. I’ve been working every day either in the swimming pool or on my bicycle and I will jump on my rally bike as soon as the doctors allow me to do so. I am doing the best I can at the moment and I am positive I will be allowed to race the Dakar in January. A few days before the start in Lima, I’ll have to pass the medical exams from ASO and then I’ll know whether or not I can race. For the past few weeks I’m making good progress and I am positive I will be able to make it happen.”
Race Schedule – Dakar Rally 2019
Stage 1 | Jan 7 | Lima to Pisco | SS: 84km | Total: 331km
Stage 2 | Jan 8 | Pisco to San Juan de Marcona | SS: 342km | Total: 554km
Stage 3 | Jan 9 | San Juan de Marcona to Arequipa | SS: 331km | Total: 779km
Stage 4 | Jan 10 | Arequipa to Moquegua | SS: 352km | Total: 511km
Stage 5 | Jan 11 | Moquegua to Arequipa | SS: 345km | Total: 776km
Rest Day | Jan 12 | Arequipa
Stage 6 | Jan 13 | Arequipa to San Juan de Marcona | SS: 317km | Total: 839km
Stage 7 | Jan 14 | San Juan de Marcona to San Juan de Marcona | SS: 323km | Total: 387km
Stage 8 | Jan 15 | San Juan de Marcona to Pisco | SS: 361km | Total: 576km
Stage 9 | Jan 16 | Pisco to Pisco | SS: 313km | Total: 410km
Stage 10 | Jan 17 | Pisco to Lima | SS: 112km | Total: 358km