DAKAR 2018 REPORT #4

WALKNER CRUISES HOME FOR KTM’s 17TH DAKAR VICTORY

Saturday 20th January 2018

WHO WON?

Matthias Walkner (Red Bull KTM) won – an Austrian rider on an Austrian bike, to seal KTM’s 17th successive Dakar victory. In fact four of the five top finishers were riding KTMs. With a near 40-minute lead going into the final four stages Walkner could afford to use up some of his advantage as a safety buffer, riding safe, but with Dakar you don’t know until you cross the last finish line…

Day 11 Belén – Fiambalà

A 40-minute advantage is all very well and good but with two back-to-back marathon stages to contend with and a fair chance of messing up on navigation no racer would take that advantage for granted, it would need defending. And Walkner defended it well. In the Stage 11 where cars and bikes mixed it on the same track, Walkner raced after Stephane Peterhansel in his Peugeot car and tailed him to make sure he stayed on track – a savvy way to minimise mistakes. Meanwhile teammate Toby Price let rip, as did Kevin Benavides (Monster Energy Honda) – the latter desperate to cut into Walkner’s advantage. And he did, while Price scored his first stage win of the rally, Benavides cut Walkner’s lead to 32 minutes; if the Argentinian could do this every stage and if Walkner made a mistake or two, it was still mathematically possible the win could go to Honda. Big news of the stage though was the withdrawal of Joan Barreda (Monster Energy Honda) who had started the day in second place. Alas, his tally of injuries had caught up with him. Barreda had injured a wrist before the rally, then injured his knee in Stage 7, collected a concussion in Stage 10 and eventually stopped mid-stage on day 11, plain exhausted.

Day 12 Fiambalà – San Juan

For the second time in this year’s rally a stage was cancelled (although the cars and trucks continued). The reasons were many and the overriding reason unclear. Fog meant the medic’s helicopters couldn’t fly in the morning. Rain swelled the river crossings making the possibly unsafe for the bikes, and finally riding behind tracks in the sand and dust of the second part of the stage was thought to invite disaster. Frustrating no doubt for Benavides, relief for Walkner. Nonetheless, as always there’s little actual rest as the riders still had to transfer to the Stage 13 start.

Day 13 San Juan – Córdoba

Part two of the Marathon had been avoided but Stage 13 offered a colossal challenge – a 907km day with 424km of times stage (broken into two parts) – plenty of potential there for disaster. And disaster indeed struck as fourth-placed Ricky Brabec (Monster Energy Honda) was forced to retire with electrical problems. Meanwhile Price and Benavides made a repeat of their attack plan and again finished 1-2, again with about 2 minutes separating them. And again Walkner played it safe, rolling in 11’32 behind Price, reducing his lead to 22’31.

Day 14 Córdoba – Córdoba

Last day, and not the hardest one, just 116km of liaison and a 120km special. At Walkner’s carefully calculated safe pace he’d get home safe, only complete disaster would deny him victory. And so it was, the Austrian sacrificed 5’38 to the storming Benavides, but that left him 16’53 to the good at the end of the rally. Yep, Benavides took the last stage of the rally – his first this year – and ran home a well-deserving runner-up while Price’s end of rally speed-up gained him third, ahead of teammate Antoine Meo.

SO, WHAT’S THE STORY?

Three works KTMs in the top four – that looks like a rout. But it wasn’t. Honda were there all the way, they even took the lead twice, and with Benavides and Barreda for a while it looked like they could have even scored a 1-2. And we can’t forget Yamaha’s fantastic performance. But for Adrien Van Beveren’s heavy fall in Stage 10 – just when he’d been gifted an almost insurmountable lead – it could have been a blue team victory. Instead, as it seems to happen in these recent years, KTM grabbed victory from the jaws of defeat. Refreshingly they’ve done this with a different rider each year for the last three: Price, Sunderland, Walkner.

Walkner becomes the first ex-motocrosser to win for some time. Probably the last, and only, ex-crosser to win Dakar was Belgian Gaston Rahier who won back-to-back in 1984 and ’85 on thumping great BMW R100GSs. Rahier had won the 125 motocross world championships in 1975/76/77 – obviously he liked doing things on the bounce. Walkner was the MX3 world motocross champion in 2012.

Gotta give KTM their dues, the got five bikes inside the top-10, placing three works Red Bull KTM’s inside the top-four and two KTM-equipped Himoinsa Racing riders into 5th and 9th. Honda placed 2nd and 10th – that 10th an impressive debut by Pablo Goncalves’ last-minute stand-in Jose Cornejo. Rockstar Energy Husqvarna’s Pablo Quintanilla placed 8th – he’d been second placed until a breakdown on Stage 5, but since then failed to make an impression on the race. The Hero Rally team put Oriol Mena (a notable enduro star from the near-past) into 7th on their Husky-Speedbrain-Hero thing (looks like an old BMW/Husky motor and chassis – obviously with a lot of updates and development – but that lineage is unmentioned these days). And well done Gas Gas and Johnny Aubert on riding to a brilliant 6th overall.

Walkner was obviously chuffed with his result as he told Dakar.com: “It’s really, really amazing. I was never thinking that I really could win. The goal was to stay on the podium, but it was so close this year and day ten was a key day. Maybe luck was on my side this time, but it's really a dream come true. It was a really crazy Dakar. The riding level was so high. There were five other people who could have won it but it looks like I was the lucky one. I was surely a little bit lucky. I think that on the Dakar you need a bit of luck but sometimes you have it and sometimes you don’t have it. This time it was on my side. In 2016 after my bad injury, that changed a lot for me. It's so cool to be back here.”

2018 DAKAR RALLY

Final Top-10

1 Matthias WALKNER AUT Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Team  43:06.01

2 Kevin BENAVIDES ARG Monster Energy Honda Team  +16.53

3 Toby PRICE AUS Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Team  +23.01

4 Antoine MEO FRA Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Team  +47.28

5 Gerard FARRES GUELL ESP Himoinsa Racing Team  +01:01.04

6 Johnny AUBERT FRA Gas Gas Motorsport  +01:53.53

7 Oriol MENA ESP Hero Motorsports Team +02:22.52

8 Pablo QUINTANILLA CHI Husqvarna Factory Rally Team  +02:24.05

9 Daniel OLIVERAS Himoinsa Racing Team +02:37.20

10 Jose CORNEJO Monster Energy Honda Team + 02:42.36

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