KTM factory riders take on challenge of Dakar Rally 2017

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The motorcycle category has been safe in KTM’s hands since 2001, when Italian Fabrizio Meoni was their first winner. Now the team is firmly on the top of every competitor’s wish list as the one to beat. All four riders heading for the start are fit and well prepared, and they know the pressure is on.

The 2016 winner Toby Price (#1) again leads the KTM challenge. The much-winning Australian desert racer competes in his third Dakar with an enviable 3-1 result in his two first races.

Price: “I’m excited about being part of the Dakar this year. It’s going to be a difficult one, ranging from the navigation to the high altitude. It’s definitely going to be a challenge but its also one I’m looking forward to, and to seeing how it pans out. It’s also exciting to be starting in Paraguay and going into Argentina and Bolivia. It’s going to be a long race and a long two weeks, but we’ll just get to the end of every day, hope for the best and go from there. But everything is looking good, the bike is good and the team is strong, so it’s exciting times ahead.”

British rider Sam Sunderland (#14) made his debut with the factory team in 2015 and goes to the start with confidence after finishing second in the 2017 FIM Cross Country Rallies World Championship. But he is aware that changes in the navigations regulations and the physical demands on riders and machinery will make this year’s edition very tough.

Sunderland: “We’ve been training in Morocco to get some practice in how the new navigation rules will work, which are sure to make the race a little slower and more tricky. I also think the altitude will play a big role. The first week has a lot of stages at altitudes that go up to 4,800 meters. This will affect both us as riders, and our machinery, so it’s going to be tough. I’m working hard to prepare for that right up until the last moments before we leave for Paraguay.”

Austria’s Matthias Walkner (#16) takes on his third Dakar Rally in 2017 after having to retire from the first half of the 2016 edition with a fractured leg. He was able to rejoin the team for the last two rounds of the 2017 world championship and is fit to tackle his third attempt.

Walkner: “The Dakar is our main race and we all work for it for the whole year. It’s not just a race; it’s more of an adventure so it’s cool to be part of it. Also the people and the countries are nice and there are nice places to ride in. For sure it’s going to be really tough this year. There’s the altitude, the very long stages, a marathon stage and for six days we will not be under 3,500 meters altitude. It’s going to be really hard for us, and the mechanics, and also for the bikes. But we have a good team and we’re prepared for it. After my injury last year I feel 95 percent prepared for it. I hope these last weeks go well for me and that I can get to the finish.”

Completing the lineup is KTM Factory Racing’s powerful woman rider Laia Sanz of Spain (#19), the 2017 Women’s Enduro World Champion. Sanz is riding in her sixth Dakar and in 2015 finished overall ninth.

Sanz: “This Dakar I think will be a little different from the last one. Everyone says we’ll have more navigation, and we know we have 5-6 stages of altitude. This will make the race even harder. Also we have some new parts where we’ve never been before – new places and new stages and we don’t know how it will be. I think it will be harder than last year, also longer stages, so we’ll have to see what happens.”

Missing from the 2017 lineup is French rider Antoine Meo, who recently had surgery on his left wrist. He is now concentrating on preparing for the start of the 2017 FIM Cross Country Rallies World Championship. Due to personal reasons resulting in a lack of time for preparation Mexican-born KTM rider Ivan Ramirez finally decided not to step in for Meo as a rookie at Dakar Rally 2017.

Marc Coma, Dakar Sporting Director and a five-time winner for KTM has promised an extremely tough edition. “The route of the 2017 Dakar preserves rally-raid traditions, with a physical challenge that will push the competitors into the world of extreme endurance,” he has stated. There will be seven timed selective sections over 400 km and one over 500 km. Altitude will be a particular issue this year with six competition days at more than 3,000 meters above sea level. Coma also assures the 146 riders competing in the motorcycle category that nothing will be decided until the last special stage.

Dakar Rally 2017 embraces Paraguay, the 29th participating country in this offroad epic, which will host the start of the event in Asunción (January 2). During the rally they will encounter dramatically different temperatures – close to freezing when exiting the Bolivian plateau and up to 50°C in Argentina and they will tackle continually changing terrain that will never get any easier. The mammoth “Super Belén” stage takes them over almost 1,000 km. The one rest day will be spent at La Paz, in the highest altitude capital in the world, where they will attempt to catch their breath and maintain and repair their machinery before they head south for the second week that finishes at Buenos Aires on January 14.

In all, riders cross three countries – Paraguay, Bolivia and Argentina in 12 stages totaling almost 9,000 km, more than 4,000 km of which is under the clock. Navigation will be a particular issue this year. Organizers warn that GPS systems made available to riders will have limited functions; a system they say is designed to “…restore all the importance to the good old-fashioned compass.”