2019 Dakar Rally Preview Motorcycles
When the 41st edition of the Dakar Rally - the shortest in history - gets underway in Lima, Peru, January 6, all eyes will be on the "Ready to Race" brand, KTM.
The Austrian motorcycle manufacturer has won 17 consecutive Dakar rallies, including last year's edition which was won by Red Bull KTM 450 Rally pilot Matthias Walkner. The Austrian only claimed a single stage of 14, but his consistent finishes allowed him to dominate the standings.
The Red Bull KTM Factory Racing Team returns to the 2019 Dakar Rally with Walkner and teammates Sam Sunderland - the 2017 Dakar Rally winner - and Toby Price. Also joining KTM for the "world's toughest rally" are Dakar female class winner Laia Sanza, Mario Patrao and rookie Luciano Benavides.
The KTM riders will be six of 138 set to start the 2019 Dakar Rally, which is scheduled for January 6-17. This year's rally features 10 stages, including a marathon stage (no pit crews allowed) and two rest days.
In total, the riders will ride just over 3,100 miles, with nearly 1,900 of those timed specials and 1,200 non-race travel. And 70% of the action will take place in the sand dunes of Peru.
From Lima, the grid will head south, covering the coastal region with stages in Pisco, San Juan de Marcona and Arequipa – places already visited during the 2018 Dakar Rally, which provides returning riders with some much needed experience to tackle the rally.
The crucial Marathon stage will occur in Moquequa before the riders arrive to Arequipa for the rest day. From there, riders head back to Lima after taking on San Juan de Marcona and Pisco.
Though the odds are with KTM, there will be much challenges from the factory Honda, Yamaha and Husqvarna machines that filled the podiums over the past few years.
The Monster Energy Honda CRF450 Rally will surely be a major threat, especially the one piloted by Kevin Benavides, who finished second behind Walkner in 2018 - just under 17 minutes behind.
Returning alongside Benavides is another huge threat, Paulo Goncalves. He missed the 2018 Dakar Rally due to injury. Joan Barreda, who won 22 stages in eight Dakar editions, also returns. He was forced to retire last year while second in the rankings due to a fall that made him lose consciousness.
Joining the Honda riders in 2018 is Jose Ignacio Cornejo, who finished 10th overall last year will substituting for Goncalves. Also riding for Honda again is the American Ricky Brabec, who was forced to retire in 2018 due to electronic problems while in sixth overall.
The Yamalube Yamaha Rally team will compete this year with some Dakar veterans, including Adrien Van Beveren, who finished sixth in 2016 and fourth in 2017; Xavier de Soultrait, who starts his fifth-straight Dakar; and Rodney Faggotter.
Yamaha says Franco Caimi's participation aboard the WR450F Rally machine will be decided prior to the event's start in Peru. The Argentinian is doing everything possible to return to full fitness following his injury during the Morocco Rally. He is expected to undergo his last medical checks just a few days before the start of the event.
The other huge threat to the KTM squad is the Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing team, which returns with Pablo Quintanilla and the American Andrew Short, a former Supercross competitor.
The Chilean Quintanilla, a two-time FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship, will start the seventh Dakar Rally of his career. Short returns after his rookie Dakar outing in 2018; he finished 17th overall aboard the Husqvarna FR 450.
Another rider to watch will be 2018 top rookie Oriol Mena, who finished seventh and was called upon to ride a Hero. And finally, Michael Metge has joined his brother Adrien at Team Sherco, and he is targeting a top 10.
Though the shortest Dakar ever, the competition will be fierce. Times have changed dramatically since the time of the Cyril Despres and Marc Coma battles; these riders dominated the Dakar Rallies, claiming five victories each between 2005 and 2015.
But with Despres competing in automobiles, and Coma retired, the battling up front will not just be between KTM battles. Expect the factory Honda, Yamaha and Husqvarna pilots to put up some serious fighting this season.
Stay clicked to Ultimate Motorcycling for daily recaps and video of the 2019 Dakar Rally.