Interview Matthias Walkner: 'Main goal is to finish, top-3 is possible'


KTM dominated the Dakar Rally since the beginning of this century. In fourteen starts, the Austrian manufacturer won fourteen times. Marc Coma and Cyril Despres both took a major part of this succes with both 5 victories each. Both of them departed, Despres is obviously racing the Peugeot while Coma switched to ASO as Sporting Director. Who of the new generation at KTM will fill up the gap? Matthias Walkner will take a shot.

Walkner debuted eleven months ago in the Dakar Rally coming from MX. The MX3 World Champion asked himself if it wasn't too early to start the Dakar. But he showed his potential by winning the 3rd stage.

”The first part was really good, I liked the stages a lot”, tells Walkner. “It showed me the nice part of the Dakar, including a win in the 3rd stage. But the second part showed me what can happen as well. At the salt lake in Bolivia I was struggling with the electrics, like everybody else. I lost a lot of time. It was a strange situation. Luck could determin if you would make it to the finish or not.''

“I think it was good that the first Dakar showed me both sides and I know the basics what to do when the bike starts breaking down. I can call the mechanics and learned how to explain them what's wrong. So it was good for me that the first Dakar showed me both sides, but in the end I prefer the good one. ”

Walkner was forced to call it a day after he went ill halfway the race: “Last Dakar, the first three-four stages were really tough and hard on the body and on the bike. I though I could cope with it. It's hard to recover when something goed wrong, for example with the food. I got sick from a fish in a paella, and it got really bad. On top of that, my Camelbag broke down, so I had no water for like 200 kilometers. It was too dangerous to continue, as there were still too many stages to finish. I think this year I'm better prepared for everything, I know already what's coming and I think I can make it this year.”

Matthias Walkner, OiLibya Rally 2015

’I’m better prepared’

The preparation for Dakar 2016 started early. “We've been preparing all the year so there's not really any stop. Except the first month after the Dakar, when your body needs to recover. But the races start in march again. These races are the training for the Dakar. Now, there's one month to go, and working on my physical condition.

I'm doing a lot of cycling, hike in the mountains as much as possible depending on the weather, just to get the body ready.”

So far, Walkners career in rally raids has been very successful. The Austrian clinched the 2015 World Championship Cross-Country with a runner-up spot in the Morocco Rally this October.

Walkner joined the factory squad of KTM and he experiences a lot of expertise: “The guys here are so experienced. They have prepared bikes for the last ten years and they know how to do it much better than me. They do the settings of the suspension, and know all the little details to prepare a bike for the Dakar. ”

A good preparation and good results this year, do not guarantee a top position in the Dakar, Walkner is aware of that. “ I think I'm very well prepared. I've proved a lot over the season and I'm more confident. Maybe I can finish top 5 and if everything is running well maybe top 3, but the race is 9. 000km long and so many things can happen. The main goal is to make it to the finish in Rosario, and if things go well anything can happen.”

Who’s the new leader?

With the departure of Marc Coma, the big question is who will be the new leader in the KTM Factory Team. Teammates Toby Price, Antoine Meo and Sam Sunderland showed their ability to race fast. It’s still uncertain if Sunderland will make it the start. He crashed in Morocco last October and is still recovering. On December 15th the decision will be taken if he will race or not.

Walkner says Toby Price may be one of the main contestants from the Austrian team. “He is really strong, also fitness-wise, in endurance races. Last year was his first Dakar and he finished third. Everything was running perfect for him, but maybe this Dakar may show him the other side.”

Source: Red Bull