KTM Dominates 2023 Dakar Rally
After 14 stages and 8549km of inhospitable Saudi Arabian desert, Australia’s Toby Price has, agonisingly, finished a mere 44 seconds short of winning his third Dakar Rally, with the result not decided until the final few kilometres of what was widely regarded as one of the toughest Dakars of all-time. The only consolation for the understandably disappointed Price was that this year’s win was taken by his Red Bull KTM Factory Racing teammate, 34-year-old Argentine, Kevin Benavides. Benavides has now won two of the four Dakars hosted by Saudi Arabia, and his victory takes KTM Dakar-win tally to 19!
Let’s check in with the KTM team and riders as they reflect on their achievement after two gruelling weeks’ racing in Saudi Arabia…
Taking the win on the 13th and penultimate stage on Saturday, Kevin Benavides closed down the gap to provisional rally leader, Toby Price, to just 12 seconds. And with the start order reversed for the final day of racing from Al Hofuf to Dammam, the two KTM 450 Rally racers would set off right from the back – Benavides leaving three minutes ahead of his teammate.
Although the final timed special had been regarded as a relatively simple sprint to the finish, the 136 kilometres of gravel tracks, sand, and dry lake beds threw up a considerable challenge to all riders. However, it was Benavides who piled on the speed and mastered the terrain to take his second consecutive stage win of the event, and more importantly, the overall rally victory.
Kevin’s journey through the 14-stage race has been one of outstanding consistency. Even though the Argentinian didn’t pick up one single second in bonus time for opening any stages, he finished inside the top 10 every day for the whole two weeks of racing. It was this skillful and calculated approach to the event that earned him his second career Dakar Rally victory.
The result makes it two Dakar titles for Benavides – 2021 and 2023 – and marks KTM’s 19th win at the Dakar.
Kevin Benavides: “It’s been an amazing day! I just focused on every kilometre from the first to the last. I didn’t think about the position or the result I just gave my 100 percent over the whole stage and tried to enjoy the day. The special was really fast and tricky, and so muddy – thankfully I didn’t make any big mistakes, but it would have been easy to have an issue out there today. I have worked so hard for this. This year’s rally has been one of the closest ever and there wasn’t a single day where you could afford to ease off. I couldn’t have done it without the support of my team, and all my family and friends. It’s going to take a little while to sink in; I can’t describe this feeling right now.”
Leading the standings going into the 14th and final stage of the race by just 12 seconds, Toby Price was the last rider to enter the special. Aiming to chase down Benavides who had set off three minutes ahead of him, Toby got his head down and gave his all right from the start. A couple of issues early in the stage cost the Aussie the valuable seconds he needed to stay in front, and despite clawing back close to one minute on the latter half of the special, it wasn’t quite enough to overhaul the flying Benavides.
Toby has produced an incredible performance over the course of the two-week race. Securing no fewer than 10 top-five stage results, and a win on the event’s opening prologue, the two-time Dakar champion was undoubtedly the man to beat throughout the rally. Missing out by less than one minute after more than 44 hours of racing is of course frustrating, but knowing he gave his absolute all every single day, Toby is happy with how he rode and with the hard-fought runner-up result he’s secured at the world’s toughest rally-raid.
Toby Price: “So, so close. Yeah, a great job from Kevin. He did really well today. I knew it was going to be tight, and of course I pushed right from the start all through the stage. I just missed three waypoints by virtually metres, and it dropped me back. Obviously, the goal is to win, and it’s frustrating to miss out by such a narrow margin. But I’m fit, healthy, and I’m going home with a trophy, so that’s the most important thing. I’m ready for another one next year.”
After a heavy crash on stage two where he injured his wrist, Matthias Walkner demonstrated his grit and drive by continuing with the rally. As his condition improved, the Austrian was able to deliver stronger and stronger stage results as the race went on. At the close of stage 12, Matthias had moved back up to a highly commendable ninth overall. Unfortunately, disaster struck on the penultimate Stage 13 of the event where a heavy crash off the top of a dune left Walkner with considerable back pain. Thankfully, after being airlifted to hospital for further checks, the 2018 Dakar winner was found to not have broken any bones or suffered any serious injury. We wish Matthias all the best for a speedy recovery.
Norbert Stadlbauer – Rally Team Manager: “It’s been an incredible Dakar – one of the toughest in history and definitely the closest! It’s been such a close battle inside the Red Bull KTM team with Toby and Kevin separated by just 12 seconds going into the final day today. Thankfully, the performances of both riders gave KTM a one-two in the race, with Kevin earning his second win and the 19th for KTM. Of course, you can’t have two winners, but Toby claiming second place is still an incredible achievement and down to the hard work he has put in over the two weeks. The team have also done an amazing job, not just at the event, but also over the whole of the past year building up to this race. Now it’s time to celebrate before we look ahead to the next race in the season.”
Pit Beirer, KTM Motorsports Director: “Beside the riders, I’m maybe the happiest man on the planet right now. It’s amazing after this long journey and this tough race, to have only 12 seconds separating the two guys coming into this final day. And then for them to push so hard over the stage and reach the finish line safely and in first and second is incredible. After around 5000 kilometres and over 40 hours of racing, to have them so close is unheard of, and the whole team did an amazing job to get them here in this position. What it came down to was basically a motocross race for 130 kilometres. Both riders did an amazing job, and even though you can only have one winner, I’m hugely proud of them both, as the pressure was really on today. KTM now have 19 wins at the toughest offroad race in the world, but we won’t stop there. We’re already looking forward to this season and then the 2024 Dakar next year.”
PROVISIONAL RESULTS – 2023 DAKAR RALLY, STAGE 14
1. Kevin Benavides (ARG), KTM, 1:15:17
2. Daniel Sanders (AUS), GASGAS, 1:15:52 +0:35
3. Toby Price (AUS), KTM, 1:16:12 +0:55
4. Pablo Quintanilla (CHL), Honda, 1:18:32 +3:15
5. Skyler Howes (USA), Husqvarna, 1:19:02 +3:45
PROVISIONAL FINAL STANDINGS – 2023 DAKAR RALLY
1. Kevin Benavides (ARG), KTM, 44:27:20
2. Toby Price (AUS), KTM, 44:28:03 +0:43
3. Skyler Howes (USA), Husqvarna, 44:32:24 +5:04
4. Pablo Quintanilla (CHI), Honda, 44:46:22 +19:02
5. Adrien Van Beveren (FRA), Honda, 44:47:50 +20:30