The Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Racing team are entering the final stages of their preparations ahead of the 2018 Dakar Rally – the 40th edition of the event, staged this year in Peru, Bolivia and Argentina. Competing on the all-new KTM 450 RALLY, the official four-rider line-up of Sam Sunderland, Toby Price, Mathias Walkner and Antoine Meo are currently all busy training hard ahead of the gruelling annual event.
Following an intense year of racing, training and preparation, the Red Bull KTM team of Sam Sunderland, Toby Price, Matthias Walkner and Antoine Meo are now all but ready to begin their individual quests to claim KTM’s 17th consecutive Dakar bike class victory, and take on the challenge of the longest and toughest event on the cross-country rallies calendar.
Following two years of development and a rally win on its first competitive outing, the all-new KTM 450 RALLY is also ready to face the challenge of the 2018 Dakar. Officially launched at the recent EICMA show in Milan, resplendent in its Red Bull livery, the bike boasts many performance improvements over last year’s model. A new engine and management system gives the riders more accurate throttle response, a new chassis and swingarm provides sharper handling and newly designed fuel tanks and bodywork ensure the bike feels slimmer and is more maneuverable.
Proudly displaying the number one plate on the new KTM 450 RALLY, Sam Sunderland will return to the Dakar as defending champion. The British rider’s fight for the 2017 FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship went right down to the final round where unfortunately he was forced to retire after picking up a small injury on the second day. Now fully fit and confident of a good result in South America, Sam will be fighting to repeat his success of 2017.
Sunderland: “I am feeling really positive. I’m feeling really fast and strong on the new 450 - my fitness is good at the moment and I have no injuries. We have had the final shake down test on the new bike and it went very well. There’s always a lot of work and preparation in the last couple of months on the run up to Dakar. Trying to balance all the factors of testing, training and traveling always makes for a busy time before Dakar.
“Now I would like to be able to reward the team for all their hard work with a good result, which is what I’m working towards. We were able to do that at the bike’s first outing in Morocco when Matthias took the win. Everyone in the team is focused on Dakar.”
Toby Price, winner of the 2016 Dakar Rally, has endured a difficult year. Following his crash at the 2017 Dakar in which he injured his femur, Price has been on a long road to full fitness ever since. The Australian was set to race the OiLibya Rally of Morocco in October, but complications with his injury forced him to miss the event. Aware of the challenge in front of him, Toby remains upbeat and determined to put in a strong performance.
Price: “After a recent clean-up of my injury, I am feeling a lot stronger already. It’s a big step forward and things are already looking really good for January. I have been able to get some time on the new bike, and it’s a huge step forward – the team have done an incredible job. I’ve been off a bike for close to eight or nine months. It’s clearly not the preparation any rider would want leading up to the biggest race of the year, but then you don’t forget how to ride a motorcycle.”
Riding the new KTM 450 RALLY, Matthias Walkner won the final round of the FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship in Morocco. The win ensured Matthias finished third overall in the 2017 championship standings. This success, and the feeling of increased confidence on the new bike, has given Walkner even more motivation as the Austrian goes into the Dakar Rally looking to better his 2017 runner-up position.
Walkner: “It’s been a long year and a season of ups and downs for me. To finish the championship on a high and on a bike that suits me so well is a massive confidence boost. My feeling on the new bike allows me to push that little bit harder and it has taken my riding to the next level.
“Nobody can predict what will happen at the Dakar, but the team have done an amazing job preparing the bike for the event and I am feeling really good. Hopefully all that hard work will pay off and we can come away with another win for KTM. Before that there’s much more training and riding to do, to be in the best shape I can before the start of the race.”
Claiming a strong fourth place finish on his return to racing at the final round of the Cross-Country Rallies World Championship, Antoine Meo surprised even himself with his pace. The last two seasons have been difficult for the Frenchman following the injuries to his wrists sustained during the 2016 Dakar. The four-time Enduro World Champion is looking forward to Dakar 2018 but knows he still has some work to do before he is ready to take to the start line in Peru on January 6th.
Meo: “This year has been tough. After missing the 2017 Dakar due to having corrective surgery at the beginning of the season I came back for the races in Abu Dhabi and Qatar, which was possibly too soon. After a break during the summer, I came back again to race the OiLibya Rally in Morocco. I surprised myself as I immediately felt at home on the new bike and was able to fight for the podium.
“It’s really difficult to judge my pace right now. I am feeling good but know I still have a lot of work to do before January. I’m not setting any specific goals for myself going into the Dakar, my plan is to take each day as it comes and just go from there.”
The four Red Bull Factory riders will be joined at the 2018 Dakar Rally by KTM Rally Factory Racing’s Laia Sanz and Luciano Benavides. Sanz will be looking to secure her place as the most successful female Dakar competitor ever with another good result. Benavides will be competing in his first Dakar for KTM and will be aiming to gain as much knowledge and experience as he can over the course of the two-week event.
Running from January 6 to 20, 2018, the 40th edition of the Dakar Rally will see over 500 competitors cover 10,000km during 15 days of racing. The 2018 event will be the 10th edition to be held in South America and will cross the three countries of Peru, Bolivia and Argentina.