Former MXGP racer Matthias Walkner has won the 2021 FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship. Finishing as runner-up at round four of the series, the Rallye du Maroc in Morocco, the Austrian star earned the points required to wrap up the title with one event to spare.
Coming into the Rallye du Maroc with a 20-point advantage at the top of the championship standings, Matthias Walkner knew he still had to put in a strong performance at the penultimate round in order to clinch his second Cross-Country Rallies world title.
Using day one to get back up to speed on his KTM 450 RALLY after the three-month break since the previous round, Walkner used his skill and judgement to build his speed throughout the timed special to ultimately place fourth fastest. With the event heading into the vast expanse of the Merzouga dunes on day two, Matthias took the opportunity to push right from the outset and was able to successfully chase down his rivals ahead to win the stage by just over one minute. The result also elevated him into the overall rally lead.
Falling foul of one particularly tricky note in the road book on Monday’s stage three, Walkner dropped down the order to fourth as the event reached the halfway point. Coming back fighting, and with the goal of making up as much time as possible, the 2018 Dakar winner put in a superb performance that saw him narrowly miss his second stage win of the event by just 36 seconds.
On the fifth and final day, Walkner knew exactly what was needed of him to score enough points to claim the world title. With the timed special shortened by the organizers to just 166 kilometers, times were very close across the whole field. Placing eighth on the final stage, Walkner finished second overall for the event and earned himself 20 points, securing the 2021 FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship for himself and KTM.
Of the three championship rounds raced so far, Walkner has shown incredible consistency, finishing as runner-up at the high-speed Rally Kazakhstan, before taking the win in the contrasting conditions of the epic Silk Way Rally, held in Russia less than one month later. Now, with another podium result in Morocco, the experienced 35-year-old has shown he is clearly on form and will now be aiming to carry his winning momentum into the final round of the series in Abu Dhabi before focusing on the 2022 Dakar next January.
Matthias Walkner:“It’s been a super cool rally for me. I set out this morning hoping to take the win, but I made a small mistake about halfway through that only maybe cost me a minute, but it was enough on the shortened stage to lose out. Second place overall is great though and to win the world championship title early is amazing. The team have been great all year, so a big thank you to them. It’s time to relax now and really enjoy the moment.”
Norbert Stadlbauer – Rally Team Manager:“We are very happy with the result overall – we came here to bring home the title one event early and we’ve managed to do that. It’s been a very positive race for the whole team and now we will look ahead to Abu Dhabi and then on to Dakar in January.”
Robert Jonas – Vice President Motorsports Offroad:“To claim another FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship is a credit to Matthias and the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing team and it’s a victory that we’re very proud of. There is no doubt how hard Matthias works to be at the top of his game both on and off the bike; he has maintained the consistency and speed needed while navigating throughout this year’s races to bring home the trophy with his KTM 450 RALLY. Congratulations to Matthias and the team.”
Both returning to competition following injury, Toby Price and new signing Kevin Benavides used the Rallye du Maroc to rebuild their speed and confidence while also putting the all-new 2022 model KTM 450 RALLY through its paces in its competitive debut. Making changes and developing the bike as the event progressed, the two experienced Dakar champions were pleased with the performance of the machine and look forward to continuing their work at the next round in Abu Dhabi. Ultimately finishing seventh and 13th respectively, Benavides and Price were also joined in Morocco by teammate Sam Sunderland. Unfortunately, the British rider was forced to withdraw from the event on day four, due to illness.
Toby Price:“It’s good to get the last day done, and out of Morocco in one piece. I picked up a small penalty for speeding in today’s stage but all-in-all I can’t complain. It’s good to get the first one under the belt after being off the bike for so long and I’m looking forward to Abu Dhabi now to see what we can do there.”
Kevin Benavides:“The last day went well for me, I kept to a solid pace and made sure I didn’t have any crashes. I was pleased with my riding and navigation, and it’s good to get the first race done with the team. I’ve been a little careful all through the rally because my shoulder has given me some pain, but on the whole it’s gone well. And now I’m looking forward to more time on the bike at Abu Dhabi.”
Red Bull KTM Factory Racing will next be in rally action at the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, held from November 6 to 12.
Provisional Results – Stage 5 Rally du Maroc 2021
1. Pablo Quintanilla (CHI), Honda, 1:39:12
2. Ricky Brabec (USA), Honda, 1:39:29 +0:17
3. Daniel Sanders (AUS), GASGAS, 1:39:30 +0:18
4. Toby Price (AUS), KTM, 1:39:49 +0:37
5. Ross Branch (BWA), Yamaha, 1:39:49 +0:37
8. Matthias Walkner (AUT), KTM, 1:41:48 +2:36
14. Kevin Benavides (ARG), KTM, 1:45:41 +6:29
Provisional Standings – Rally du Maroc 2021 after 5 of 5 stages
1. Pablo Quintanilla (CHI), Honda, 16:26:51
2. Matthias Walkner (AUT), KTM, 16:28:50 +1:59
3. Daniel Sanders (AUS), GASGAS, 16:32:18 +5:27
4. Ricky Brabec (USA), Honda, 16:34:05 +7:14
5. Adrien Van Beveren (FRA), Yamaha, 16:44:52 +18:01
7. Kevin Benavides (ARG), KTM, 17:06:29 +39:38
13. Toby Price (AUS), KTM, 17:22:35 +55:44