Former world MX3 champion Matthias Walkner became the first Austrian rider to win the Dakar Rally in its long history, and kept KTM’s winning streak alive after it looked like they could lose for the first time in 17 years. KTM have won every Dakar since the rally moved to South America in 2009.
The thirty-one-year-old, who for many years worked as official KTM factory motocross test and development rider, had made steady progress through the pack towards the lead of the event over the last week of racing and finished a safe eighth in the finish stage which was won my Honda’s Kevin Benavides.
“When you are leading with such a big gap in the biggest event in our sport, it was crazy” said Walkner. “Now it is time to celebrate. I was never the guy who was winning a lot or losing a lot, just riding always near the front.
“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!”
Benavides won the last stage and was second overall just under 17 seconds behind Walkner with the hard-charging 2016 winner Australian Toby Price again on the podium in third.
Benavides said: “It’s been a great Dakar. I’m really happy and I felt great. It’s been really tough. We fought right up until the end. We always had a great strategy. We were always on the podium and were even leading the race at one point. It’s a shame about what happened in stage ten, but we have to keep looking forward. We’ve finished second overall and we have won the final stage, which we knew we could.”
Third place overall made up for Price’s disappointment from last year when he dropped out with a broken left femur. Playing catch up following an unfortunate navigational error earlier in the rally, Price’s speed in the final stages of the event has been phenomenal. His result today secured third place in the overall standings, an amazing feat considering the 2018 Dakar is the Australian’s first competitive outing since injury forced him out of the 2017 event.
Price said: “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.”
The event took its toll on early leader Sam Sunderland who crashed out and had to retire, ruining his chance of back-to-back wins. Adrien Van Beveren then looked set to take victory until he crashed out with just a few days remaining.
Top woman racer Laia Sanz took a stunning 12th overall in the event, despite two big crashes on the closing stages of the rac. Always close to the top-10, the multiple world champion, was over the moon with her performance.
Sanz said: “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.”
UK rider Lyndon Poskitt was 33rd and completing the last day in 28th while Max Hunt was four places behind him on his Husqvarna.
Provisional Results Final Stage 14 – 2018 Dakar Rally
1. Kevin Benavides (ARG), Honda, 1:26:41
2. Toby Price (AUT), KTM, 1:27:35 +0:54
3. Antoine Meo (FRA), KTM, 1:29:30 +2:49
4. Daniel Oliveras Carreras (ESP), KTM, 1:30:06 +3:25
5. Johnny Aubert (FRA), Gas Gas, 1:31:00 +4:19
Provisional Final Standings – 2018 Dakar Rally
1. Matthias Walkner (AUT), KTM, 43:06:01
2. Kevin Benavides (ARG), Honda, 43:22:54 +16:53
3. Toby Price (AUT), KTM, 43:29:02 +23:01
4. Antoine Meo (FRA), KTM, 43:53:29 +47:28
5. Gerard Farres (ESP), KTM, 44:07:05 +1:01:04