In what was an extremely positive day for Red Bull KTM Factory Racing at the 2019 Dakar Rally, Matthias Walkner finished the stage as second fastest.
Team-mates Toby Price and Sam Sunderland brought their KTM 450 RALLY machines home in third and fourth respectively, with Luciano Benavides posting his best result of 13th.
Marking the first half of the 2019 Dakar Rally’s marathon stage, day four in Peru was another challenging one for all competitors. Setting off from Arequipa early in the morning, a short 85-kilometre liaison led into the two-part timed special. At 405 kilometres – the longest of the rally – the special consisted of soft dunes with many areas of dusty Fesh-Fesh leading into faster, hard-packed river beds.
Riders had to take care to preserve their tyres on the faster sections while not losing too much time to their rivals. A short liaison then brought the riders to the temporary bivouac situated near Moquegua. As the marathon stage rules state, riders receive no outside assistance overnight. All maintenance must be carried out by themselves or fellow competitors.
Following his challenging stage three, Matthias Walkner was the 15th rider to enter the day’s timed special. Immediately pushing hard and making the most of his experience to catch and pass riders ahead of him, the 2018 Dakar Champion maintained his strong pace throughout the day on the fast, treacherous route. A heavy landing from one drop-off caused Walkner to hurt his ankle slightly but the Austrian rider was able to continue to complete the stage and finish as runner-up.
Matthias Walkner: “The day was good for me – the bike is running well and I didn’t crash at all today. I did land quite hard from one jump and thought I might have injured my ankle but it seems to be ok. It’s great here in the bivouac, we are all here together as one team and that feels good. I managed to get some time back in the overall today, so I’ll aim to do the same tomorrow.”
Despite a small crash in the latter half of the special, Toby Price put in a great ride to finish as third fastest, less than a minute down on the hard-charging Walkner. Still nursing his injured wrist, the Australian is looking forward to tomorrow’s slightly shorter stage five.
Toby Price: “That was tough today. It was a long stage and a lot of it was made up of rocky tracks and rivers, they are the worst for my wrist. I did have one get-off along the way but luckily not too bad. I’m not comfortable but it is the way it is and I have to work around it. The goal for the rest of the rally is to keep on doing what I’ve been doing and get the best result possible.”
Fifth away at the start of the stage, Sam Sunderland maintained a strong pace throughout the day, despite losing touch with many of the riders ahead of him and navigating his own way through the fast 405-kilometre stage. The British rider ultimately placed fourth and now also lies fourth in the provisional overall standings.
Sam Sunderland: “The day started off on some wide-open plains, which was nice. But then they had us go through some really technical stuff, which turned out to be really tricky. I dropped the bike at one point in a ravine and had some trouble getting it to point in the right direction again, but apart from that everything was good. I had to focus to keep my pace at the end there, but I’m happy with my result and looking forward to tomorrow.”
Improving once again, Luciano Benavides enjoyed his best stage result of the rally so far, finishing 13th and just 20 minutes off the leaders’ time. Moving up to 14th overall, the young Argentinian feels fit and aims to maintain his pace as the rally progresses.
Luciano Benavides: “For me, it was a good stage today. Matthias caught and passed me at about kilometre-45. I tried to stay with him but it was too difficult as the dust from the Fesh-Fesh made it very difficult to see. From there I just rode my own pace and it has gone ok as I posted my best result of the rally so far. Myself and the bike are both in good condition and ready for the second half of the marathon stage tomorrow.”
Experienced Dakar racer Laia Sanz knows the importance of caring for your bike on the first half of the marathon stage. Putting in another solid ride, Laia once again finished the day inside the top-20 as 19th fastest.
Laia Sanz: “It was a long day today but I am happy with how it went. It’s important to arrive here at the bivouac with the bike in one piece on the marathon stage and I managed to finish without any problems. The day was quite hard with lots of dust at first and then later on the river bed was really tough. I’m hoping for another good day tomorrow.”
KTM Factory Racing’s Mario Patrao successfully completed stage four in 23rd position and lies 20th overall in the provisional standings.
Friday’s 776km stage five will see the first of two mass starts at this year’s event. Riders will set off motocross-style into the Ilo dunes as they contest the 345-kilometre timed special. As the day makes up the second half of the marathon stage, competitors will need to conserve their tyres and machines in order to arrive back at the bivouac safely.
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