Red Bull KTM’s Matthias Walkner made history by becoming the first Austrian ever to claim a win in Dakar Rally when he crossed the finish line in the 2018 Dakar Rally in Cordoba, Argentina, today, bringing to an end the 40th edition of the 5000+-mile spectacle that deserves its billing as the toughest off-road race in the world.
Walkner, who was rarely the fastest rider from stage to stage. He claimed just one win in the 12 stages that were run (two motorcycle stages were cancelled during the 14-stage, two-week-long race), but it proved to be the one that will forever tell the story of his win. It was during Stage 10 that the former FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Champion would move into an insurmountable lead by carefully navigating a precarious stage while many of his closest competitors got lost. The only man in Walkner’s league at that point was Yamalube Yamaha Official Rally’s Adrien Van Beveren, and when the Frenchman suffered a high-speed crash just a few miles from the finish of the stage and had to withdraw with multiple serious injuries, the 2018 Dakar Rally effectively became Walkner’s to lose.
That didn’t happen. Walkner was able to celebrate his first career Dakar Rally win while KTM celebrated its 17th consecutive Dakar Rally win as a manufacturer, an amazing string to be sure.
“It’s really, really amazing,” said Walkner, who finished eighth in Stage 14 but ended the event with a total time of 43 hours, 6 minutes and 1 second, leaving him an advantage of 16 minutes and 53 seconds over runner-up Kevin Benavides. “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 10 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 on, 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.”
Second overall went to Kevin Benavides, who won the final stage with a time of 1 hour, 26 minutes and 41 seconds, outrunning close rival and Red Bull KTM rider Toby Price by 54 seconds to remain 6 minutes and 8 seconds ahead of the 2016 Dakar Rally Champion at the finish. Benavides finished strong in Argentina, much to the delight of his countrymen. Along the way, he held the overall lead after Stage 6.
“I feel amazing,” Benavides said. “This sensation for me is incredible. To win is my dream, so I touched it a little bit. We need to continue pushing and pushing for next year. Now I know I can do it, so I’ll continue preparing and try to do it.”
There’s little question that Price will no doubt be pushing hard again next year. But for his massive navigational error along with much of the field in Stage 10, the Australian might have been knocking on the door of his second Dakar Rally win. But as he said since that day, that’s how it goes, and he still had to be pleased with his third-place finish after being unable to defend his Dakar Rally title in the 2017 edition due to an injury.
“Three podiums is really amazing,” Price said. “After the year I had, it’s a dream come true, for sure. It was rough, but with 12 months under our belt we’ll be ready to go for the next one. I didn’t even expect this finish. A lot of people didn’t even expect me to be at the start line. I knew I’d be at the start line, but I didn’t know what shape I would be in. Twelve weeks ago it was looking pretty grim. Six weeks ago I started training and riding. It’s a steep curve again. I seem to enjoy these steep curves to get back to where I need to be. It’s never any fun, but we’re really happy to be here and get a third place. Every time I’ve crossed the finishing line and made it to the end, I’ve been on the podium, so I’m really happy with this. I’m already looking forward to the next one. To have 12 months off and not do any road-books, navigation or any races at all and then come straight back into the biggest race of the year… on the toughest one in years as well.
“This is the fourth one I’ve started, and this has been the toughest one of the lot,” Price continued. “They’re definitely not making it any easier on us. We were just trying to get through and do what we can. The new bike that KTM have come up with is an amazing bit of equipment. I think that’s what has made the job a little bit easier for me. I’ve got the beach body now to head back home to Australia and lie on the beach for two weeks solid. But then we’ll get back to training, hook in and come back. Hopefully it will be bigger and better things next year.”
2018 Dakar Rally
Stage 14: Cordoba, Argentina
Results: January 20, 2018 (Stage 14 of 14)
1. Kevin Benavides (ARG)-Monster Energy Honda Team / 1 hour 26 minutes, 41 seconds
2. Toby Price (AUS)-Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Team / +00:00:54
3. Antoine Meo (FRA)-Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Team / +00:02:48
4. Daniel Oliveras (SPA)-Himoinsa Team / +00:03:25
5. Johnny Aubert (FRA)-Gas Gas Racing / +00:04:19
6. Oriol Mena (SPA)-Hero Motorsports Team Rally / +00:05:01
7. Gerard Farres (SPA)-Himoinsa Team / +00:05:23
8. Matthias Walkner (AUT)-Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Team / +00:05:38
9. José Ignacio Cornejo (CHI)-Monster Energy Honda Team / +00:07:57
10. Juan Pedrero (SPA)-Sherco TVS Rally Factory / 00:10:53
2018 Dakar Rally Overall Standings (after 14 of 14 stages)
1. Matthias Walkner (AUT)-Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Team / 43 hours, 6 minutes, 1 second
2. Kevin Benavides (ARG)-Monster Energy Honda Team / +00:16:53
3. Toby Price (AUS)-Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Team / +00:23:01
4. Antoine Meo (FRA)-Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Team / +00:47:28
5. Gerard Farres (SPA)-Himoinsa Team / +01:01:04
6. Johnny Aubert (FRA)-Gas Gas Racing / +01:53:53
7. Oriol Mena (SPA)-Hero Motorsports Team Rally / +02:22:52
8. Pablo Quintanilla (CHI)-Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Rally Team / +02:24:05
9. Daniel Oliveras (SPA)-Himoinsa Team / +02:37:20
10. José Ignacio Cornejo (CHI)-Monster Energy Honda Team / +02:42:36