A shakedown test on Friday saw teams carry out final adjustments to their machines, as riders reacquainted themselves with the soft sandy terrain in Peru. A series of briefings, scrutineering and administrative checks over the next couple of days lead up to the ceremonial start on Sunday evening.
On Monday January 7, the 41st edition of the rally kicks off with a 331-kilometre opening stage, taking riders from the Peruvian capital city of Lima to Pisco. A short 84-kilometre timed special will give the competitors their first competitive taste of the conditions in the Peruvian desert. Hear what some of the top contenders had to say prior to the start on Monday morning.
Take a ride on board with Toby Price during his shakedown below:
Reigning Dakar Rally champion Matthias Walkner comes into the event following a strong 2018 season. The Austrian is proud to display the number one on his KTM and is fired up to defend his title over the 10 days of racing.
Matthias Walkner: “I am feeling good going into the event. I was a little ill over the Christmas period, but I’ll be fit and healthy for the race. Preparation up to now has gone really well and I’m looking forward to riding with the number one plate on my bike. I believe riding as number one gives me more motivation than pressure – I think the guys who have never won the event carry more pressure. It’s definitely going to be a different Dakar this year, I normally prefer a wider variety of terrain but I’m keen to give it my all and hopefully claim another good result at the end of the 10 days.”
Following a small crash in testing just over one month ago, Toby Price injured his wrist and faced a huge challenge to be fit enough to race. Despite the setback, the 2018 FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Champion is confident in his strength and plans to fight for the win in Peru.
Toby Price: “Things are looking good here in Lima, the team have been working really hard on the run up to the event and now it’s time for us to deliver. Generally, I’m feeling good and well prepared, my arm isn’t quite 100% perfect – it still gives me some pain from time to time – but I am confident it’s strong enough not to cause me any issues in the race. I really don’t know what to expect from the race, it’s going to be a hard one to judge and we won’t really know how it plays out until we get out there. It’s going to be tough to pull time on the others if you are starting out front as we all know it’s often easier to follow the tracks in front through the sand. Having said that, there is scope for some big mistakes as navigation could prove really tricky. I’m looking forward to the sand to be honest, I ride well in the dunes and it could be a little easier on my wrist.”
2017 Dakar Champion Sam Sunderland has displayed good pace all year and is keen to secure his second title. Fully fit and ready to take on the dunes of Peru, the sand specialist is looking forward to the race.
Sam Sunderland: “I have had a really good final build up to the race and I’m feeling fit and strong. We’ve got a lot of tough kilometres ahead of us but I am excited to get going and see what I can do. Strategy is going to be very important. With so much of the race ridden in the sand, making the most of your start position is going to be huge. The Peruvian dunes are some of the toughest to ride in the world. The light-coloured sand can often be tricky to see properly, especially when the sun is high in the sky – navigation is going to be tricky but massively important. It’s difficult to know exactly what to expect, but I know I will go out there and do my best, as always.”
Riding in the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing team for the first time, Luciano Benavides plans to use the knowledge gained during 2018 to increase his consistency and pace during the 2019 event. Forced to retire from the race last year, the young Argentinian plans to gain even more experience and will be aiming for the top-10.
Luciano Benavides: “Dakar 2019 is a very important race for me – I am feeling good and come into the race with a lot more experience. The most challenging part for this year will be the hot temperatures and the long stages in the big dunes of Peru. I think it will be even harder than last year’s event. After my mistake in 2018, my main goal is to complete the race safely. I love the feeling of freedom you get riding in the desert and I’m looking forward to being cheered on by the people of Peru.”
KTM Factory Racing riders Laia Sanz and Mario Patrao will also be lining up alongside their KTM teammates with the experienced pair both aiming for strong results. The rally marks Laia’s ninth Dakar and for 2019 the popular Spaniard hopes to maintain her 100 percent finishing record at the event.
Laia Sanz: “It’s going to be quite a different Dakar for me this year in a number of ways. Normally at this stage I’m feeling 100 percent fit and know I am ready to take on the event. After falling ill earlier in the year my preparation has not been as good as I would have liked and I am not sure what to expect in the race. It’s certainly going to be tough out here in Peru, but my plan is to take each day as it comes and ride to my strengths. I know my navigation is good and with some strategy I’m hoping for a strong result.”
Mario Patrao, riding for the factory team for the first time, plans to crack the top-10 and support his teammates as best he can. The former Marathon Class winner is fit and ready to go.
Mario Patrao: “I’m fully prepared for the challenge of the Dakar. Physically, I’m in a very good place and I am also happy to have the full support of the KTM team behind me. The stages look like they will be quite tough, but my plan is to take one day at a time. We still have a little preparation to do, but Monday’s stage one will soon be here and I’m looking forward to getting started.”
Two-time FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Champion Pablo Quintanilla is aiming high at this year’s Dakar Rally. Eager to put his experience and raw speed to good use, the Chilean rally star will be launching an attack for the top step of the podium at this 41st edition of the prestigious rally.
Pablo Quintanilla: “I feel we’re in a good place right now. I’m in a great shape physically and I am really motivated to do well this year at the Dakar. I just can’t wait for the race to start so that all that hard work during the last few months starts to pay off. This Dakar will be different from the others. It is shorter but I think it will be harder. Riding in the dunes is always challenging and you end up spending a lot more energy. I expect the pace to be quite high and it will certainly feel like a two-week motocross race. My plan is to take each day separately and take advantage of any opportunity I have to attack. There will be three mass starts this year and that’s something we also need to take into consideration. I have my strategy on my mind and I will do my best to stick to the plan I’ve set for myself.”
All set to enter the second Dakar of his career, Andrew Short is looking for a good overall performance in the dunes of Peru. The acclaimed US racer is feeling comfortable aboard the latest edition of the FR 450 Rally and will be there to provide support to his team partner Quintanilla, whenever needed.
Andrew Short: “I feel really excited for this Dakar. Last year I felt like I wanted to learn and to finish and this year I want to push and do my best. The feeling is good on the bike and I feel as prepared as I can be. I want to leave nothing on the table and do my best for a good overall result. In 2018 we raced the Baja Inca here in Peru and that helped a lot to get more familiar with the terrain and conditions. Ten days in the dunes will be really tough and we all expect things to get more difficult as the race goes on. I look forward to those challenges. For me the key point would be to be able to control pressure and maintain a good race pace from the start to the finish. Pablo has a good chance of winning this event and I really hope he can bring that victory home for the team. If I can help him achieve this win it would be great for the whole team and everybody involved.”
Yamalube Yamaha Rally team riders are ready to take to the start of the 2019 Dakar Rally aboard the latest version of the WR450F Rally machine. With Franco Caimi’s participation confirmed, the team, who have been in Peru for several days, will feature a complete four-rider line-up consisting of Adrien Van Beveren, Xavier de Soultrait, Franco Caimi and Rodney Faggotter.
Adrien Van Beveren: “I’m totally ready for this Dakar. I’ve worked a lot during the last few months and I feel I was able to reach a whole new level in terms of my physical and mental preparation. I am honestly really excited for this race and I can’t wait to start competing. This is going to be a difficult Dakar with lots of dunes, tricky navigation and a quite intense pace from start to finish. I feel that this Dakar will suit my riding style, and this gives me the extra confidence to push. I am entering this race with an open mind. I am ready and open to any challenge that we might come across. I feel I have worked really hard for this race and it’s time to show what I can do.”
Xavier de Soultrait: “I’ve worked a lot for this race and now it’s time to show what I’m capable of. I feel I am 100% ready for this challenge. I’ve studied each stage and each day of the race separately and I know exactly what needs to be done. We’ve raced these dunes in the past and I feel comfortable racing my bike in this part of the world. It’s going to be an intense race but I am physically prepared for that. At the moment, it’s hard to predict what the key points of the race will be. I know I have to be ready to tackle anything thrown at us, from tough navigation to long days on the saddle. I want to be fast on every stage while having my eyes focused on the big finish in Lima.”
Franco Caimi: “It feels great to be lining up for the start of this Dakar after all I’ve been through these last two months. From the first day after my crash in Morocco in October, I would wake up every morning trying my best to be fit and ready for this race. My doctors were impressed with the progress made and two weeks ago they gave me clearance to race the Dakar. I might not be in the best physical condition going into the race, but I have set my own goals and I will do anything possible to achieve them. I want to keep building on my confidence throughout the race and all the way to the finish. I want to be there to assist my teammates and do everything I can so we can all reach our main goal to win the Dakar as a team.”
Rodney Faggoter: “I’m really looking forward to get things started here in Peru. I got here last week and it was great to catch up with all the team. We’ve made a few small changes to the bike and I can’t wait to race it. For me the second week of this Dakar will be crucial, as we will be criss-crossing some parts from the previous days. There might also be tracks from previous races in the area, so it’ll be crucial to remain focused. I think that might also be the determining factor for the victory this year. No matter what the conditions are, I want to be strong from start to finish and fight for the best possible result.”
Paolo Goncalves: “We are ready, with the shakedown out of the way and also the verifications. Yesterday I felt good, I rode painlessly after the operation I had and I’m ready to start. The race will be difficult and long, and you have to take it with caution, trying to get through the stages every day and arrive as best you can to the goal. I expect a Dakar with lots of sand and many dunes… but in the end it is still the Dakar. There will be a bit more sand than normal but that’s the way the Dakar is.”
Joan Barreda: “We are now all set to race after a long season preparing this Dakar. Yesterday, in the shakedown, everything was positive and I think we are ready to fight for the title. The whole team has worked hard and the war starts on Monday. I expect a hard, difficult Dakar, a real Dakar even though it is all in Peru. I’m confident that in this edition the navigation will be a decisive factor.”
José Ignacio Cornejo: “Everything is ready to start this Dakar 2019. We are very motivated to fight for Monster Energy Honda with everything we have. This year I arrive here in much better shape than last year. We will try and improve on the 10th place finish from last year. I am very happy to start here in Peru and we hope do the best that we can in the race.”
Ricky Brabec: “We did our final shakedown one day ago. Today, two days before the beginning of the actual Dakar, which was dedicated to the technical inspections and verifications. It’s the longest day of the rally. You have to go across town and sign papers and check gear and bikes. It’s not as easy as it looks. It’s the day that no one likes. It has to get done. The organisation is really good at this: a lot of safety equipment, they want to make sure you have enough water on the bike and a good helmet… We have five healthy riders and I have high expectations. I have put too much money in this not to get a good result. I hope I do good and push all ten days with good results every single day.”
Kevin Benavides: “Everything is ready. Yesterday we tried out the bikes and it went well and today we passed all the administrative and technical checks and I am very happy with the work done so far. I feel very good physically and mentally and have great expectations for the race and am eager to fight for this new adventure and fight for my goal: the Dakar.”