Sam Sunderland: Cross-Country Champ
Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s Sam Sunderland has won the 2019 FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship by placing as runner-up at the penultimate round of the series – the Atacama Rally in Chile.
With an unbeaten record in the 2019 championship leading into round three, following wins at the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge and the Silk Way Rally, Sam Sunderland arrived in Chile with a healthy points advantage over second-placed Andrew Short. Delivering a mature and calculated performance, the 2017 Dakar Rally Champion put in a superb ride throughout the challenging five-day event in and around Copiapó to finish second overall, earning himself enough points to claim the title with one round remaining.
Racing with incredible consistency, Sunderland finished inside the top three in all five stages of the Atacama Rally. On the final day the Brit did exactly what was needed of him, bringing his KTM 450 RALLY home safely and in turn, secured his first-ever world championship title.
Sam Sunderland: “I’m so happy to win the world championship, I couldn’t have done it without my KTM team. I have to thank Toby as well for his help – I bent my disc on the marathon stage and Toby was kind enough to swap, so that kept me in the chase. It was always in the back of my mind that I could take the title here in Chile, but I tried not to think about it too much as the race went on, I just tried to focus on getting through each day safely and in a good position. It’s been a really tough event here in Chile as always but it feels great to be standing here now as world champion. I have come so close in the past having finished as runner-up twice in 2015 and 2016, but this title makes all the hard work worth it.”
Seventh on the final stage, Toby Price put in a strong performance for the entire rally to ultimately finish in fourth overall. The Australian, making his first rally outing of 2019 since the Dakar Rally in January, soon found his rhythm on the fast, rocky pistes of Chile and is now looking forward to another strong result at the final round in Morocco.
Toby Price: “Stage five has gone well, it was only about 180 kilometres, so not too long. Sam caught me up and we led the entire stage from start to finish. It’s always tough to lead out especially through the sand dunes but I think we did a good job. Overall, I’m really happy, it’s been a good rally and a good one to come back to. I know I still need to do a little work on my wrist – it’s not quite right yet, but the plan is to be in slightly better shape for Morocco and then training in Spain before we gear up for the Dakar in Saudi Arabia next year.”
Also making his return to rally competition in Chile, Matthias Walkner showed great pace on the mixed terrain of the rally. The Austrian, feeling more comfortable as the event progressed, put in his best performance on the final stage to finish third fastest and claim seventh in the overall standings.
Matthias Walkner: “It feels great to finish third on the last stage. I really enjoyed it today, I just rode my own race and tried to concentrate on my rhythm and navigation. Pablo caught me around kilometre-90 and I was able to follow him for the last half of the special. It’s been a really good race to come back to and I know now where I need to improve a little bit, so I’ll work on that before the next race in Morocco.”
Luciano Benavides, riding in his first Atacama Rally, claimed 10th on the final stage to finish 10th overall. The young Argentinian rode a solid event, focusing on his navigation and consistency on the high-speed timed specials. Happy with his result, Benavides now looks ahead to the final round of the series where he hopes to wrap up his year by claiming the junior world title.
Luciano Benavides: “I’m really pleased to finish my first Atacama Rally. I finished in a solid 10th place in the overall and second in the junior class. It took a little time to adapt to the fast stages here in Chile but I accomplished by goals, which were to get a good, safe finish and work on my pace. We’ll move on to Morocco now and the final round of the season. I’m still leading the juniors so the plan is to finish well and hopefully take victory in the championship.”