The halls are decked with holly, the streets are dusted with snow, and the fridge is stocked with eggnog. All clear signs that the best time of the year is just around the corner: Dakar Rally season.
As the 43rd annual race approaches, the Red Bull KTM team is fully focused on regaining the top step of the rostrum in 2021. After Monster Energy Honda rider and first-time American Dakar winner Bobby Brabec snatched gold in 2020, Red Bull KTM riders Toby Price, Matthias Walkner, and Sam Sunderland are fully fit to fight for the title in Saudi Arabia. KTM’s championship run lasted 18 years before Honda and Brabec broke the streak, and with the factory team’s current roster responsible for Dakar wins from 2016-2019, we’re looking forward to the showdown in 2021.
Coming in third in the 2020 race, Toby Price might be the hungriest among the group of Red Bull riders. With two championships already under his belt, the Australian struggled to get seat time in 2020 due to the global pandemic. Luckily, Price traveled to Europe in late summer to train for the 4,750-mile route and will remain in the Middle East testing his KTM 450 RALLY race rig.
“It’s great that we can get out into the dunes for testing but it’s still a big sacrifice to make, missing out on the regular family time over the holidays,” said Price. “For the last couple of months, the team have been testing hard, things have been going well and there’s certainly nothing better to build your fitness than time on the bike.”
Matthias Walkner also looks forward to this year’s rally thanks to recent improvements made to his KTM race rig. The Austrian rider is known for his navigational skills and this year’s shorter yet more technically demanding route could favor the 2018 Dakar winner.
“We have some experience of what to expect with the terrain now and have a good idea of what we will face,” noted Walkner. “The team have been able to adjust the bike to suit and I honestly think we will go into the next Dakar with the best rally bike I have ever ridden.”
Dubai-based British rider and 2017 Dakar winner Sam Sunderland is luckily on the same page as Price and Walkner. Fully fit and focused on the challenge, Sunderland looks to capitalize on his speed in deep sand thanks to the numerous dunes found on the 2021 route.
“I know since the last Dakar the team have been working extremely hard on improving the bike and perhaps making it more suitable for the terrain that we’ll face,” commented Sunderland. “I’m really looking forward now to getting out there and trying it all out under race conditions.”
Will KTM be able to retake the throne? Will Honda and Brabec defend the title? Will another manufacturer take everyone by surprise? After 2020, we’ve learned to expect the unexpected, but we can all expect that the Red Bull KTM team will bring it in 2021.