Sam Sunderland and Luciano Benavides will soon head to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates to contest round one of the 2019 FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship – a five-stage event held in the dunes to the south of the UAE’s capital city.

Fully rested following January’s gruelling 10-day Dakar Rally, Red Bull KTM Factory Racing will continue their 2019 race program with a two-rider team competing in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge. The event, now in its 29th edition, marks the start of this year’s world championship. Faced with five days of racing, totalling over 2,000 kilometres, riders and their machines will be tested to their limits in the dunes of the Liwa Desert.

Following on from his Dakar podium success, Sam Sunderland has kept himself busy in the months leading up to the opening round of the FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship. As well as training onboard his KTM 450 RALLY, the Brit has also raced a variety of off-road events around the globe, including enduro and supercross. 

Sam Sunderland:“I always look forward to Abu Dhabi, it’s somewhat of a home race for me. I feel confident in the dunes there and have had some success in the race before with a win in 2017. It’s going to be tough and we’ll have plenty of competition. Unfortunately, some of my teammates won’t be there as they are recovering from injury after Dakar, but it’s good to see them on the mend. Training went well in Morocco recently and it’s great to have the team working together again. My plan for the race is do my best for the team and myself, hopefully come away with a good result, and get the championship off to the perfect start.”

The team’s junior member, Luciano Benavides, went from strength-to-strength at the 2019 Dakar Rally, finishing in a strong eighth place overall in only his second year at the event. Benavides put in an impressive performance over the course of the race, making few mistakes and steadily improving his pace as the race progressed. Riding in the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing team for 2019, the young Argentinian is looking forward to the forthcoming season. 

Luciano Benavides:“I’m feeling really good right now, I took three weeks off after Dakar to relax and spend time with friends and family but it was soon time to start riding again. The recent test in Morocco went really well, it was useful for me to get back up to speed on the bike and improve my feeling in the desert. I hope my performance in Abu Dhabi will be like my second week at the Dakar – I want to get closer to the top guys and believe I have the experience and confidence to do this now. My goal for the season is to be near the top of both the junior world championship and the overall.”

Jordi Viladoms (KTM Rally Team Manager):“We’re really looking forward to this first race of the world championship. It’s a pity as a team that we don’t have our top-two Dakar finishers, Toby Price and Matthias Walkner, but Sam and Luciano are also very strong. Sam is especially fast in the dunes of Abu Dhabi and has won the event before. Testing went well last week in Morocco and we were able to do some good work setting up the bike and preparing the riders. It looks like the event will be quite tough as always, but I am confident of good results.”

The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge commences March 30 in the United Arab Emirates. Saturday’s opening ceremony is followed by a 329.06-kilometre opening stage one on Sunday.