It’s a long way from the Alps to the South American deserts, but Matthias Walkner conquered one of the toughest Dakar rallies of all time to claim his first victory in the mammoth event, the first for an Austrian rider.
In a rally that claimed several top riders, 2017 champion Sam Sunderland crashed out on day four, followed by fellow front runners Adrien van Beveren and Xavier de Soultrait, Walkner stayed the distance to claim KTM’s 17th successive win in one of the ultimate tests of man and machine.
The 31-year-old Austrian racer, a former motocross world champion and runner-up in last year’s Dakar, had taken a steady start to the 2018 edition, lying third overall as the race entered its rest day after eight stages. He took his first, and only, stage win the following day to take a lead he would never relinquish.
Walkner entered the final day’s competition, a 120km loop around the Argentinian city of Cordoba, with a 22 minute lead over local rider Kevin Benavides, and although the Honda rider took the stage win in front of his home fans, Walkner took a steady ride to finish the stage in eighth place, winning the event by almost 17 minutes from Benavides after almost 9000km of riding. Australian rider Toby Price claimed the final podium spot, riding another KTM 450 Rally.
“It’s unbelievable – I can’t describe how it feels,” an elated Walkner said after the final stage. “This year’s Dakar has been so difficult, easily the toughest rally of my career. Navigation has been tricky pretty much every day. At the beginning of the race, all the top guys were so close with not much time between us. I just tried to keep on doing well each day without making any mistakes. Things were so tight right up to my stage victory. After that I aimed to finish each day safely and get to the end of the rally without losing my advantage. Luckily the tactics worked out and I’m here at the end now as the winner and it feels unreal. Thank you to my team and everyone that has supported me – we did it!”
The 40th edition of the Dakar, the 10th to be held in South America, was one of the toughest yet with difficult navigation, ruthless terrain and bad weather that even saw one day’s racing cancelled for the two wheeled competitors. Despite this, two British riders made it to the finish line intact. Lyndon Poskitt finished 33rd overall, a result even more impressive due to the fact that he was competing in the Malle Moto class, meaning that he received no outside assistance through the gruelling event. Poskitt finished second in the Malle Moto class, bested only by French former factory Yamaha rider Oliver Pain. Fellow Brit Max Hunt finished 37th overall, his second Dakar finish in as many years.
Final Standings – 2018 Dakar Rally
1. Matthias Walkner (AUT), KTM, 43:06:01
2. Kevin Benavides (ARG), Honda, 43:22:54 +16:53
3. Toby Price (AUS), KTM, 43:29:02 +23:01
4. Antoine Meo (FRA), KTM, 43:53:29 +47:28
5. Gerard Farres (ESP), KTM, 44:07:05 +1:01:04