2020 Dakar Rally: KTM Wins Grueling Saudi Arabia Stages 1 & 2

2020 Dakar Rally: KTM Wins Grueling Saudi Arabia Stages 1 & 2
KTM's Toby Price

Last year during the shortest Dakar Rally on record at only 10 stages, KTM dominated once again, the Austrian manufacturer claiming its 18th-straight title.

Toby Price earned the win on the KTM 450 Rally; this was the Australian’s second Dakar victory. KTM also claimed the second and third positions with pilots Matthias Walkner and Sam Sunderland, respectively.

It goes without saying that KTM was the favorite ahead of the 2020 Dakar Rally, the 42nd edition being held in Saudi Arabia for the first time. The 12-stage rally will cover 5,000 miles.

KTM's Sam Sunderland overall leader
KTM’s Sam Sunderland

With five of the stages including timed specials of around 300 miles, and over 75 percent of the race competed within the sand, the first Middle Eastern Dakar is one of the toughest ever.

KTM has already proved itself by dominating the opening two stages, but it wasn’t only with the factory riders. Last year’s winner Price – who claimed the victory while riding with a broken wrist – won the opening stage win.

Privateer Ross Branch of Botswana took stage two on the BAS Dakar KTM Racing Team 450 Rally Factory Replica.

The opening day featured a 200-mile special in some grueling conditions from Jeddah along the Red Sea Coast to Al Waijh.

Price, who carries the #1 plate in 2020 Dakar, started from 23rd and was in second by the first waypoint. He got a bit lost afterward, but was able to tag onto teammate Sunderland and claim the stage-one victory ahead of one of four USA competitors Ricky Brabec (Monster Energy Honda CRF450R Rally) and Walkner.

“I had a really good day today up until about 87 miles where my road book started to play up a bit,” Toby Price says. “Something had got in there and jammed the rollers and so I was left without a roadbook for a while. Luckily, I caught Matthias after he lost a little time and I was able to stay with him towards the finish. My result looks good on paper, but it turned out to be quite a tricky day. I’m also opening the stage tomorrow, so hopefully, that’ll go well, too.”

Stage two presented some new challenges for the 87 motorcycle starters as pre-colored road books were presented to riders only 25 minutes before the start of the timed specials – in previous editions riders had much more time to study the road books.

Stage two also marked the first half of the 2020 Dakar Rally’s Super Marathon stage, which means riders can only work on their bikes for 10 minutes at the end of stage 2 and Tuesday’s stage 3 with zero assistance from their respective teams.

When the 228-mile special, Branch claimed the first win for a Botswana native.

“Today was really good and I had a lot of fun on the bike,” Branch said. “Starting fourteenth this morning helped a lot because there were some tracks that opened the road. I had a lot of fun and tried to ride my own race. I navigated well today which was really good for me and I think it helped a lot.

“Then I just took it easy, one by one, just trying to catch the guys. Yeah, I had a lot of fun and it was an awesome day. We only get one shot at this, so we have to make the most of it and I really enjoyed it. I love being here. The whole adventure’s amazing and I’ve made so many new friends here. It’s really cool and I love being a part of the Dakar. It’s a KTM, so the bike’s really good. It’s really good – everything’s good for tomorrow.”

2020 Dakar Rally: KTM Wins Grueling Saudi Arabia Stages 1 & 2
KTM’s Toby Price

Branch finished ahead of Sunderland, the 2019 FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Champion who took the overall lead, and Rockstar Energy Husqvarna’s Pablo Quintanilla of Chile.

“It was a really tough day today and it felt very long,” Sunderland said. “There was a huge mix of terrain with high speed tracks and then slower technical sections. In and out of the canyons there were a lot of lines visible and that made navigation more of a challenge. I made a couple of mistakes, but I think everyone did out there today. All-in-all though I had a good run, just trying to stick to a steady rhythm and build up my pace as the race goes on.”

Tuesday’s stage three of the 2020 Dakar Rally is a looped course starting and finishing at the city of Neom. Of the 313 miles covered, 265 miles will be a timed special, leading competitors towards the border with Jordon and rising to the highest point in this year’s rally at an altitude of 1,400 meters before returning to the bivouac.

2020 Dakar Rally Overall Standings after Stage 2 of 12:

1. Sam Sunderland (GBR), KTM, 7:05:22
2. Pablo Quintanilla (CHI), Husqvarna, 7:06:40 +1:18
3. Kevin Benavides (ARG), Honda, 7:06:54 +1:32
4. Matthias Walkner (AUT), KTM, 7:07:22 +2:00
5. Ricky Brabec (USA), Honda, 7:09:33 +4:11