KTM Rally factory riders take 1-2-3 in Atacama Rally

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Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Racing and KTM Rally Factory Racing Teams riders wrapped up the Atacama Rally on Saturday with Pablo Quintanilla on the top of the podium while Matthias Walkner and Sam Sunderland taking the minor places. Team veteran Jordi Viladoms finished in fourth place overall.

Australian Toby Price, new to the official factory team, and Enduro World Champion Antoine Meo of France made good recoveries from big time penalties earlier in the week to finish eleventh and twelfth. Given that he incurred a one hour 45 minute penalty, Price’s final combined time - in riding terms – was only three minutes 23 seconds off the winner.

Speaking after the rally Quintanilla said: “I’m very happy with the results and for the win here at home in Chile. It was a tough race with Matthias and Sam and with difficult navigation. I was pushing hard all week. The bike was great and the team worked very hard. We had the best material and the best team.”

Walkner, from Austria, headed into the final stage with a 1.15-minute overall lead. He said the standard of competition had been very high throughout the rally. “In the end I have to be satisfied with my second place. The bike was good and navigation was difficult all the way through. Today things didn’t go so well for me in the final stage. The navigation was extremely difficult and the road book was not always straightforward to follow. Then I made a mistake at about 30 km and just decided to take an all or nothing approach and go for it for the rest of the stage.”

British rider Sunderland was also pleased with his podium third. “This was a tricky rally and I made a few mistakes but in the end it was a good race. It’s always good to ride here in South America because it is similar to what we’ll be seeing in the Dakar. We went over some unbelievable terrain and the bike was really good, but there were some days where the road book was complicated and we have to get used to new things like the speed zones.”

Where Walkner and Quintanilla both picked up 20-minute penalties on Thursday, Sunderland escaped penalties except for a modest 2-minutes on Wednesday.

The rally however was not without difficulties for the organizers as well as the competitors. Very heavy rain in the week preceding the start made it necessary to shorten several of the stages for safety reasons, including the opener and stage two. This added another layer of complexity to the navigation. Fog in the mornings, common in Chile in the winter months, also resulted in delays to the starting times for each stage. but overall the week was important preparation for the teams looking ahead to the Dakar Rally 2016 in January.

Stage One

The opening stage in an area most affected by the adverse weather saw KTM factory riders finish on the top six positions with Quintanilla perhaps being in the best position to exploit his local knowledge. At the end of the 2 x 15km loops in the dunes, the Chilean finished in 40 minutes 23 seconds with Sunderland and Price second and third. Walkner as fourth, Meo fifth in his debut appearance on the KTM 450 RALLY, and Viladoms finished sixth. All six KTM riders finished just under five minutes of each other.

Stage Two

Riders also had a tough day in Stage Two. Ahead of what was to be the longest timed special this week, some 367.05km between La Serena and Atacama. Again organizers had to make some dramatic adjustments to the planned track. Some 80 km was cut from the start of the stage and a liaison of about 30km was placed in the middle.

Walkner was a comfortable second to finish only 10 seconds behind stage winner Paolo Goncalves of Portugal and at the same time took the overall lead, commenting: “The first 100km was in a dry riverbed. It was rather stony and relatively difficult to navigate, I didn’t go so fast but concentrated on the navigation. I think I lost about a minute on Sunderland up to the first checkpoint but I felt quite secure and the tempo was okay. I could get on the gas a bit in the second part and the navigation was a bit more straightforward. I was very fast over the next 50km and didn’t make any mistakes so that was pretty cool.”

It was Price who came off the worst in the second stage after being handed a one hour 45 minute penalty for speeding, saying later: “I should have backed it off as the road book was very inconsistent today. I was hitting things early and ended up with 22 speed zone fines. That’s probably some kind of a record.”

Stage Three

Stage Three was a loop through the dunes and another dry riverbed from Atacama to Atacama and the just over 236km also proved to be dramatic. Fog delayed the start for three hours then riders embarked on a challenging day of extremely difficult conditions and navigation. While Quintanilla and Walkner came home in 1-2 in the stage, they both later picked up 20-minute penalties and were bumped down the order to fifth and eighth positions, leaving Viladoms and Price to take the top two spots. It was also an expensive day for team newcomer Meo who, like Price the previous day, picked up a hefty penalty of one hour 21 minutes for navigational infringements.

The good news for Quintanilla and Walker was that their penalties did not alter their positions on the top of the overall standings, while Quintanilla noted later: “The times are increasingly tight. Leading the overall is just great and now I have two more days to keep on fighting for the victory."

Meanwhile Price, who saw his chances of a top spot disappear with his penalty, was circumspect. He said starting at the back to field allowed him to learn the navigation at a good pace. Price’s initial fifth place became second after the other penalties were handed out at the end of the day.

Stage Four

Stage four started with 90km of difficult navigations and dunes before the riders moved into some high speed off piste riding to complete the 226km of timed track. It was another opportunity for KTM’s Walkner to shine and he finished in front of teammate Quintanilla in both the stage and overall, even if with just a narrow 2 minutes 27 seconds lead going into the final 103.44km run to the finish line on Saturday. Sunderland was third in the stage and Price fifth fastest.

Stage Five

The final stage on Saturday five took riders just 103.42km from Huasco back to la Serena but also proved a testing day, again with difficult navigation. It was Sunderland who was the fastest of the KTM squad, finishing second to stage winner Paolo Goncalves of Portugal. Quintanilla, Price, Meo, Walker and Viladoms finished 2-7 in the stage.

Viladoms, Sunderland, Walkner and Price were all competing for the Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Racing Team while Meo and Quintanilla were racing for the KTM Rally Factory Racing Team. The only KTM factory rider not present in Chile was Laia Sanz of Spain, who had just come off a very strong overall sixth place in the Transanatolia Rally in Turkey last week.

The final round of the FIM World Cross Countries Rally Championship is the OilLibya Rally in Morocco (October 3-10, 2015).