KTM Factory Racing’s Matthias Walkner served an outstanding performance on Saturday aboard his new KTM 450 RALLY machine. With this win, he had held the Austrian manufacturer’s 17th successive triumph. Other KTM riders obtained four of the five crown positions.
Placing third at the end of a grueling 9,000 km difficult terrains of Peru, Bolivia and Argentina was Toby Price together with his KTM Machine. This feat deserved him his spot at the podium. Antoine Meo positioned a remarkable fourth with Gerard Farres Guell in fifth place. In 12th overall, Laia Sanz also had a solid performance all throughout the duration of the rally but it was pale in comparison with the navigational skills of Mathias Walkner who decdided to capitalized on it and eventually winning the title.
Walkner managed to cross the finish line with an outstanding 22 minute margin greater than his nearest competitor. This achievement made him the unquestionable champion of the 40th edition of the Rally Dakar. The past FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Champion had ridden with intelligence at the start of the race. It was also clear that Walkner had tactics right under his sleeves as he finds the precise balance between out-and-out speed and error-free navigation. During the stage 10 of the rally, Walkner finished the day with an approximately 30 minute lead.
Saturday’s 14th and final stage in eighth position, Walkner took the 2018 Rally Dakar victory and became the first Austrian motorcycle rider to do so. It was a well-deserved, historic accomplishment.
“It’s unbelievable – I can’t describe how it feels. This year’s Dakar has been so difficult, easily the toughest rally of my career. Navigation has been tricky pretty much every day. At the beginning of the race, all the top guys were so close with not much time between us. I just tried to keep on doing well each day without making any mistakes. Things were so tight right up to my stage victory. After that I aimed to finish each day safely and get to the end of the rally without losing my advantage. Luckily the tactics worked out and I’m here at the end now as the winner and it feels unreal. Thank you to my team and everyone that has supported me – we did it!” told Walker.
Toby Price who finished as a runner up during the final stage did as what any rider would do; to try and close the gap between the competitors ahead of him. But it became difficult as he had an untoward navigational error earlier in the race. This resulted in him having to catch up for the rest of the rally. Despite of the setback he experienced, he showed an incredible burst of speed during the final stages in which he finished as third overall.
“The final stage is over and it went really well. I’m happy to get to the finish line; that was always the main goal right from the start. I tried to push today to make up the time on Kevin (Benavides) but halfway through I knew five minutes was just too much and so I just aimed for a safe finish. To finish the Dakar is an achievement in itself, to come away at the end of this year’s race with a podium is unbelievable, especially after the year I’ve had. The whole team have come together and worked so hard, none of us could do it without them. I’ll concentrate on the 2018 season now and try to get a little stronger and come back here next year looking for the top-step.” told Price.
Just like his comrade, Antoine Meo’s 2017 season had been weighed down with injuries. Despite all the difficulties that he experienced, he still managed to push himself to limits and eventually finishing fourt in overall. The tenacity of Meo is one to be applauding for.
“I am so happy to complete the race in one piece. Today (Saturday) was difficult, not because of the length of the stage but because we had to wait around a bit and it was hard to maintain concentration. I tried to push early on, but after making a small mistake I caught a truck in an awkward part of the track and lost some time stuck behind him. I had a couple of crashes this year but nothing too bad. I’m happy with how things have gone and would like to thank the team for getting us through it this year.” said Meo.
In spite of two big crashes on the concluding sages of the race; Laia Sanz still manged to make an impression and drove gallantly. Laia ultimately completed the Dakar in 12th place.
“I am so happy to get to the finish, I am really pleased with my position too – it has been a very tough rally. I had two big crashes, which luckily didn’t cause too much damage to me or the bike. I am exhausted now but feel good because I am here, safely at the finish. I want to thank all the team for their help and now it’s finally time to relax.” told Sanz.
The KTM Motorsport Director said some enthusiastic things for the win of his team. “It goes without saying that winning the Rally Dakar for the 17th consecutive time is an incredible achievement for KTM. I’d like to congratulate Matthias on his first victory at the event in what was an exceptionally tough race. This result is a testament to the hard work of everyone involved, from our R&D department in Mattighofen, to the team on the ground in South America, and I’m proud that it has paid off yet again, especially with the new KTM 450 RALLY machine. Our warriors have certainly delivered, and now we can celebrate and enjoy the stories of this year’s race.”