Red Bull KTM Factory Racing are counting down to the 2021 Dakar Rally with the goal of reclaiming their dominance in the bike division. The team were denied a 19th consecutive bike race win 11 months ago in Saudi Arabia. Since then they have been focused on regaining their Dakar crown and coming up with a fresh looking KTM 450 Rally bike.
With the route of the upcoming Dakar now revealed, preparations for the rally have gone into overdrive for these serial winners. We now know that 4,800 gruelling kilometres spilt across 12 timed special stages waits for the riders in the Middle East. The first of these 12 stages gets underway on January 3, 2021 and the finish line will be crossed by the eventual winner back in Jeddah in January 15.
« On day one you know that things are going to be tough, but it’s the only place in the world that you want to be. It’s like climbing a mountain, you need to take all those steps before you can enjoy arriving at the summit. » – Matthias Walkner
Despite a shortened rally-raid season in 2020 due to the global pandemic, there remains a group of elite offroad bikers looking to start 2021 in the best way possible – by winning the Dakar Rally. Among this group of fearless riders are the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing trio: Toby Price (AUS), Sam Sunderland (GBR) and Matthias Walkner (AUT).
Toby Price wasted no time in achieving legendary status at the Dakar, on each of his five finishes he has ended up on the podium. He has two wins and three third place results to his name. His win in 2019 was perhaps the most remarkable Dakar story of recent times – he took victory despite racing much of the rally with a broken bone in his hand. The determined Aussie biker once again has the podium in his sights in 2021.
« So far I’ve either finished first or third so I either come home with a big trophy or a little one. Hopefully things follow the system they have been doing, I finished the previous one third so the next one will be a win! » – Toby Price
Sam Sunderland made a rapid start to the first Dakar held in its new home and bagged an early stage win. Unfortunately, a crash on stage five ended his bid for a second Dakar title to add to his victory in 2017. The first and only British biker to win the Dakar is looking forward to testing himself on Saudi Arabian terrain once again next month.
« Once you’ve tasted victory, your only goal is to try and rematch that. I’m going there with victory in mind, but I also want to do everything I can to make sure I arrive to the finish and stay safe. I had a really good feeling during the last Dakar. I was enjoying the terrain and felt confident with the speed, but I came unstuck by a little issue. » – Sam Sunderland
Matthias Walkner has not let the global situation prevent him from training hard this year and is set to arrive at the start line in great condition to race. This will make a change from the 2020 Dakar when the Austrian was still recovering from injury while on his way to an impressive fifth place finish. The 2018 Dakar champion and 2015 FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship winner wants to see the Austrian flag flying high again at the world’s toughest race.
« I’m working towards our goal of bringing KTM back to first place at the Dakar. We are still super, super hungry to bring home the win. » – Matthias Walkner
Sharing the bivouac with these three former champions will be Dakar rookie Daniel Sanders (AUS). The KTM Factory Racing Junior Rally Program rider could not wish to be around better company as he makes his Dakar debut.
New for the 2021 Dakar is the curtain-raising prologue which will take place on January 2. This will be the first glimpse of bikers in action ahead of their departure from Jeddah on stage one the following day.
Toby Price: « The landscapes we got to ride through in Saudi Arabia last time out really blew me away. At times it felt like you weren’t really on Earth, there were red rock mountains that had you feeling like you were cruising through Mars. I was expecting lots of dunes, but on that first week we got a lot of hard-pack piste and stony roads. The place has everything to offer. Now everyone has got that first year under their belt we’ll get to experience it even better the second year.
« So far I’ve either finished first or third so I either come home with a big trophy or a little one. Hopefully things follow the system they have been doing, I finished the previous one third so the next one will be a win! I’m carrying that lucky #3 with me. I’m not really superstitious, but hopefully that #3 is a helping hand for us.
« Dakar 2020 was tough for us on the bikes, it was a challenge for me to get up every morning and throw on the helmet. We charged on and we got to the finish line. It was the best that we could do in the circumstances. We all love motorsport, we all love racing and being a part of this whole event. It’s guaranteed that you’re always going to come back for more.
« The Dakar only happens once a year and it’s the one that everybody wants to win. There’s always nerves and we all wonder how our rivals are going to perform. You don’t know how your performances will compare with the others until the competition gets started. That’s why I can’t wait for day one to kick off. »
Sam Sunderland: « During my first experience of the Dakar in Saudi Arabia I was really amazed by the terrain and the scenery that we passed. I didn’t realise before that they had that much variance in terrain. We found some really cool places to ride and now I’m looking forward to discovering even more. A huge part of the rally is adventure and discovering new places.
« Coming into Dakar 2021 I certainly feel strong and ready. Once you’ve tasted victory, your only goal is to try and rematch that. I’m going there with victory in mind, but also I didn’t finish last year so I also want to do everything I can to make sure I arrive to the finish and stay safe. I had a really good feeling during the last Dakar. I was enjoying the terrain and felt confident with the speed but I came unstuck by a little issue.
« It’s going to be the same guys gunning for the top spot. During the last years the group of riders who can win has grown more and more. I think there’s now about 10 guys who can win the Dakar. May the best man win.
« Honda won Dakar 2020 and ended the streak of KTM. There were a few incidents that didn’t quite go our way. There are so many factors that you have get right to win this rally. Fair play to Honda, they got the win. You don’t win the Dakar by being lucky, you have to put in the work. Now we’ll be gunning to get another victory for KTM. »
Matthias Walkner: « The first experience in Saudi Arabia was quite nice, racing through the canyons full of sand is something I’ll never forget. It was the first Dakar there and the whole thing was pretty cool. Now I’m looking forward to getting back there again.
« I enjoy keeping fit and when I’m on the bike it’s a great feeling. I’m working towards our goal of bringing KTM back to first place at the Dakar. For me personally, it would be super cool to win again but there are ten other riders who also have the skills to win. Another podium finish would be really nice for me.
« Of course it is really important for us to try and win the Dakar again. We are still super, super hungry to bring home the win. In the end, I don’t think it helps to think so much about losing our first Dakar after winning 18 consecutive times. I think we should all be happy to be part of that long winning record. When the superstar veterans like (Marc) Coma were gone it was pretty hard for my generation to fill their shoes. Honda did a great job at the last Dakar and Ricky (Brabec) deserved the win.
« We all really love the Dakar. Now it’s coming closer and I’m getting more and more excited. On day one you know that things are going to be tough, but it’s the only place in the world that you want to be. It’s like climbing a mountain, you need to take all those steps before you can enjoy arriving at the summit. »