DAKAR 2019 REPORT #4

KTM must be doing backflips with glee. You couldn’t have predicted it, but as the dust settled in Lima, miraculously KTM had their 18th win on the trot – and a 1-2-3 so as to dominate the podium

Friday 18th January 2019

Toby Price is being hailed a hero. Rightfully so, he’s ridden with the pain of a broken scaphoid the entire rally and with some canny strategy he’s put his nose into the lead only when it’s really needed – at the end. So pain and happiness for the Australian (nice to add a second Dakar victory to his world championship), but pain and despair for his rivals…

Stage 9: Dakar’s slow race

As a journalist you sometimes wish the ASO could brief us a wee bit better. Stage 9, it turns out, was one of those with a mass start so no disadvantage to the stage 8 winner Matthias Walkner.

Between stages 8 and 9 there had been some race jury fall-out to deal with too. Sam Sunderland was handed an hour’s penalty with regard to his Iritrak issues at the start of stage 7, which meant he hadn’t started off the front, but later (he finished stage 7 in 4th). But worse was to come for Honda’s Kevin Benavides who got a whopping three-hour penalty for unsporting behavior, having carried (concealed) extra course notes into stage 7. Honda were set to appeal this, arguing – it seems –  tha the rules are not entirely clear on this.

Such issues aside, the leaderboard all started the 313km time stage together, and it almost stayed that way for the entire stage. Marking each other in the dunes (making for pretty television coverage) no one rider got away and instead it was a second-wave starter Michael Metge who took a first stage win for Sherco in 2019, beating another edge-of-the-leaderboard man Bolivian Daniel Nosiglia by a fair two minutes. So with Price, Pablo Quintanilla, Walkner and 'Nacho' Cornejo rolling in to the finish together, nothing changed in the leaderboard, leaving Quintanilla a tough final stage to contemplate – how to take over a minute out of Price in just over 100km of timed stage?

Ahh, and more drama – only minutes before the end of the stage, with just 16km to go – there was heartbreak (and understandably tears) for Adrien Van Beveren when his Yamaha’s engine broke. AVB had been sitting in fifth place after eight stages and still had a chance of making the podium – but, again like 2018, he was frustrated at the final hurdle (maybe not surrendering the victory this time, but still loss enough…).

Stage 10: Price wins

Price arguably couldn’t have gone into the final stage in a better position. With a reverse starting order, he went into the short stage last man, just behind his rival Quintanilla. He could then possibly see Quintanilla ahead of him and certainly if he closed on him he could moderate his pace and ride safe. Quintanilla could only but ride 10-10ths with the hope of clawing back the minute. Only that risk-it-all strategy (the only one he could apply) bit him bad just 10km into the stage when he launched off a big dune and crashed on (heavy) landing. Pain again there for a Dakar rider, the physical pain and the mental one, knowing his chance for the win had just gone. Meanwhile for Price, in coming upon Quintanilla’s crash scene (he stopped to check his rival was okay) he knew then for the next 90km he just had to bring his KTM home.

Bring it home? Price-style that means storming to the stage win by a handsome 2:21 minutes! Go figure. Cornejo placed second for Honda then came Price’s teammates Walkner and Sunderland. After remounting from his crash, Quintanilla battled to the end in 22nd, 19-minutes behind Price, giving up second as well, to Walkner. Only more Dakar surprises – on appeal, Sunderland’s hour penalty was overturned and so Sunderland, not, Quintanilla gained that final step on the podium. Tough times for the Chilean, from potential win to no podium at all. Price generously suggested Quintanilla deserved the win as much as he, but there can only be the one winner.

KTM AGAIN

There we go, another Dakar. Another KTM win, and that 1-2-3 kind of rubs the rivals noses in it. The result makes it look like a whitewash (orange-wash), but we know it was nothing of the sort.

Honda came closer than ever, but boy do they court bad luck, 30 years since their last Dakar win (1989 with the later-great Gilles Lalay) they need another soon, we all want it for them, just to refresh the rally’s storyline if nothing else. But they’ll be back. As team manager Raul Castells reflected: “We are quite unhappy about how the Dakar went, especially in the final part of the race. We, as a team, have done the best we could and we have given everything. The race ended without a deserved prize… We will not surrender and next year we will return to fight for victory”. But first, as he intimated, the team has to make its peace with the ASO, not for the first time the team feel unfairly prosecuted by the organiser’s judgments.

Yamaha again threatened. Van Beveren challenged for the victory in a measured fashion, staying there or thereabouts. De Soultrait had a great Dakar – no big crash this year, but still the speed (with a win on Stage 3) and improving navigation and 6th overall – a great result that bodes well for his future. Shame AVBs engine expired (very un-Yamaha).

Husqvarna, with Quintanilla, looked like they could have done it. They got as close as you can without actually winning. Quintanilla is a great rider and rides the rally not the stages. And but for that 20-minute loss of time on stage four he could have been this year's winner. Everything else he did exactly right. For him and Honda’s Ricky Brabec you’d think a win in 2020 would be much deserved.

And KTM – damn, they know how to dominate. By the end, from the 10 stages they won 5 – a 50% success rate there. And they got their top three riders all on the podium and their junior team member Luciano Benavides finished 8th… So four out, four in. That is some record. And even their supported rider, Laia Sanz, well, yet another successful ride for her too, 11th. So the Price-Sanz pre-race bet should be a win-win, a five-second kiss (Sanz-to-Price if Price finished in the top 5) and a haircut for Price!

 

LAST WORD: Toby Price: “It feels amazing to stand here knowing I have won the Dakar, I don’t think it has really sunk in yet. I thought at the beginning of the event I would be lucky to even make the rest day. My Red Bull KTM bike has been amazing, I want to say a big thank you to my mechanic for that. The whole crew here do an amazing job – without them I would be no one. The team put in so much work on the lead up to the event and when we get here it’s down to me out there on the track so it feels amazing to be able to reward them all with this result and keep KTM’s winning streak going.

“It was so tight going into the stage this morning, both Pablo and I knew we would have to push right from the start. Unfortunately for him, he went too hard off a dune but he really deserves a win too – everyone that starts this race deserves a win. The plan now is to go home and relax for a little while, I know I need to have my wrist seen to, so I’ll get that sorted and then it won’t be long before we start it all over again.”

 

Dakar Rally 2019

Final Overall positions (after 10 stages)

 

1. Toby Price Red Bull KTM 33:57:16

2. Matthias Walkner Red Bull KTM +09:13

3. Sam Sunderland Red Bull KTM +13:34

4. Pablo Quintanilla Rockstar Energy Husqvarna +20:46

5. Andrew Short Rockstar Energy Husqvarna + 44:10

6. Xavier de Soultrait Yamalube Yamaha +54:00

7. Jose Cornejo Monster Energy Honda +1:08:06

8. Luciano Benavides Red Bull KTM + 1:09:10

9. Oriol Mena Hero Motorsports +02:08:41

10. Daniel Nosiglia Honda Argentina +02:31:53

 

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