Dakar Rally 2020 – Preview
2019 started well for the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing team, with Toby Price claiming Dakar Rally victory while teammates Matthias Walkner and Sam Sunderland finished second and third respectively. Following his excellent Dakar result, Sunderland then went on to win the FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship with teammate Luciano Benavides securing the junior title.
For 2020, the Dakar Rally will see a huge change with the event being held in Saudi Arabia for the first time. Comprising 12 tough stages, covering close to 8,000 kilometres, the race will offer all participants a new challenge in terms of terrain, navigation and endurance. With five of the stages including timed specials of over 450 kilometres, and over 75 percent of the race ridden in sand, the first Middle Eastern Dakar could be one of the toughest ever.
Seemingly achieving the impossible, Toby Price won the 2019 Dakar while nursing a broken wrist. Ending the event having secured a deserved and hard-fought victory, Price’s success came at a cost with the Australian needing surgery to repair damage sustained during the race. Returning to rally competition in August at the Atacama Rally, Price soon settled back into a fast rhythm, placing fourth overall. Showing impressive speed at the Rally du Maroc in October, the reigning Dakar Champion now looks ahead to January and the defence of his title.
Toby Price: “Winning the 2019 Dakar started off as a bit of a dream, but with a lot of hard work put in behind the scenes by myself and the team we were able to make it happen, even with a broken wrist. It took a little time to recover from that event – I had aggravated the injury during the race and needed another surgery and bone graft to fix things. I spent the first part of the year recovering but then was back on the bike for the Atacama in September. My feeling on the bike was good there, which was encouraging and I’ve been getting steadily stronger ever since. Testing has been good, as usual the team have made some important tweaks to the bike, primarily with the suspension, so I’m really pleased about that. 2020 is going to be a whole different Dakar for us. It’s putting everyone back on a level playing field, which I think is good for the sport. It’s going to be a new race, a new look and I’m really excited for the challenge.”
Enjoying a hugely successful 2019 season, Sam Sunderland went straight from the Dakar into the FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship and dominated the first two rounds. A runner-up result in Chile was enough for the likeable Brit to claim his first ever world title with one round to spare. Often regarded as a dune specialist, Sunderland goes into the 2020 Dakar as one of the favourites and while excited for the upcoming challenge, is still mindful of the task ahead.
Sam Sunderland: “I’m confident going into this Dakar. You kind of judge your pace on how you have been riding the previous year and winning the world championship and coming third in the Dakar earlier in the year has been a real boost for me. Both the team and the bike have been fantastic all year and I’m going into the race fit and focused on doing my best. I’m looking forward to the new challenge that awaits us too – it’s going to be a new adventure for everybody and I think that really sums up the spirit of the Dakar. I like the fact that we are going somewhere new and that everyone is going to have to adapt and overcome all the new things that are thrown at us. The route is looking tough, but I’m certainly going to give the race my best shot.”
Runner-up to Price at the 2019 Dakar, despite carrying an injury through the majority of the race, Matthias Walkner also needed surgery and recovery time during the year. Building up his speed over the final two rounds of the world championship, the 2018 Dakar Champion has been putting in many valuable hours of testing ahead of the 2020 event.
Matthias Walkner: “The last Dakar was really tough for me. Finishing second was fantastic but breaking my ankle on only the fourth day made the rest of the race a massive challenge. Thankfully I was able to finish but the recovery process since then has been quite long. The training I’ve been doing has had a massive benefit to my fitness and although I haven’t spent as many hours on the bike as I would have liked, I feel great within myself and certainly ready for this new challenge. Testing has gone well, not just with the feeling on the bike but with navigation too, as I think it’s going to prove extra-important at this Dakar.”
Luciano Benavides successfully completed the 2019 Dakar well inside the top 10, while gaining valuable experience at the gruelling event. After showing increased pace and maturity over the course of the 2019 season the young Argentinian secured the Junior Cross-Country Rallies World Championship title and now hopes to carry his momentum into the forthcoming Dakar in Saudi Arabia.
Luciano Benavides: “2019 has been the best year of my rally career so far. To finish the last Dakar in eighth and then win the junior world title with fifth in the overall is amazing. After such a strong season I’m really looking forward to the 2020 Dakar. I feel I have come on a lot since last year and I’m excited to put my experience to the test. The Dakar for me is like no other rally – you have to take the event day by day and treat each stage as a single race. I try not to worry too much about the overall time, the most important thing is to get to the finish safely and do the very best performance that I can.”
Starting January 5 from Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, the 12-stage 2020 Dakar Rally will cover a total of 7,856 kilometres, 5,097 of which are timed specials. The race will incorporate two marathon stages, with a rest day for all teams on January 11. New to the Dakar, the road book will be pre-coloured, reducing the preparation work for all competitors prior to the next day’s stage. For at least four of the 12 stages, the road book will be presented to the riders just minutes before the start of the day’s racing.