Will Toby Price Race Dakar in January?

5 years ago | Words: Grant O'Brien | Photos: Kin Marcin, Brett Hemings/Red Bull

Back in May, Transmoto’s Andy Wigan got a privileged insight into KTM’s then yet-to-be-released, all-new 450 Rally machine at the brand’s headquarters in Austria. But after signing a confidentiality form and leaving his camera gear at reception, Wigan had no choice but to remain tight-lipped about KTM’s state-of-the-art new rally weapon.

Flash forward to October, the Red Bull Factory KTM Rally team made the trip to Morocco in preparation for the impending Rallye Du Moroc, the FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship round where all three team riders – Toby Price, Sam Sunderland and Mathias Walkner – were to put the all-new, all-black weapon to the test.

For Price, it was to be the start of his comeback after breaking his femur in the 2017 Dakar event. It was time for him to start fresh on the new bike and build steadily in the months leading into the 2018 Dakar. Pricey felt great, and all was going well … until an uncharacteristic crash threw a cloud over his immediate future, and the 2018 Dakar Rally that kicks off in early January. “I went to test in the sand dunes and was running a hardpack line until I hit a soft spot in the dunes, where my bike came to a complete stop. And I crashed!,” the 2016 Dakar winner explains. “It was only a small crash at around 30km/h, but now I have all the pain back in my leg. The femur feels fine, but the knee is the big issue once again.”

Mathias Walkner went on to win the Rallye du Maroc weeks later, giving the new KTM 450 Rally a sensational race debut in what was some of the most extreme conditions experienced in modern-day rally racing.
Toby Price, on the other hand, was back under the knife and frustrated he was missing valuable time on the new bike. And with Dakar 2018 creeping closer every day, he now faces an uphill battle to make the start line on January 6.

We caught up with the 2016 Dakar champ to get a fix on where he’s at with his recovery, and to see what he thinks about the new KTM 450 Rally machine that’s been rebuilt from the ground up.

TM: Compared to your previous rally bike, what was your first impression of the all-new KTM 450 Rally?
My first impression was that there’s a big difference in the look and feel. It’s thinner, lighter and a lot more rideable compared to the old bike. And it handles a lot better. A step in the right direction for sure. It’s pretty rad.

With it being a completely new build, and around 10 kilos lighter, tell us what it was like riding it for the first time.
First time on the bike, it didn’t take long to get used to. It’s still a big bike, but you can feel the difference with the 10 kilos dropped. It’s lighter and more nimble, which helps when crossing technical sections – such as riverbeds and sand sections.

Did you notice a big difference with the way the engineers have transferred the bike’s weight forward and lower?
The biggest advantage with the weight loss and weight distribution I noticed came in turns; because with the weight shifted lower, it’s less top-heavy and feels more stable, especially when you tip in to a corner. With the ‘old’ bike, when you’d move past the balance point, it felt heavy and wanted to drop in. The new bike feels much lighter in this regard; it feels more like riding a motocross bike.

Do you think this new 450 Rally will be safer to ride in a race like Dakar because of its reduced weight and handling characteristics?
Yeah, for sure. I feel this new KTM 450 Rally bike is going to be safer to ride due to it being lighter and better-handling, which hopefully means it will be less fatiguing on you at the end of a big day at an event like Dakar. There’s been so much time and development put into this bike, which will be seeing us through the next few years of Dakar, where we’ll make refinements as we go. It’s exciting to reveal it (and for me, hopefully race it) at the 2018 Dakar Rally and find out how it really performs.

Did you have much input into the development of this new KTM 450 Rally?
I’ve had a little input into this new bike for the last 18 months or so. We actually started working on bits and pieces before Dakar 2017. It’s cool to be involved in the process with KTM and help develop things like the frame, engine, and make modifications to the bike’s components. We got to test out some different tank and fairing options in a special aerodynamic facility before the final version went ahead, which was important to help reduce wind buffeting on those long, fast liaison sections, where the turbulence affected our helmets. So it was good to be able to cut that down a lot.

Where are you at with your injury, and when are you looking likely to return to riding?
Re-injuring my leg while testing in Morocco actually turned out to be positive because the doctors discovered another problem with my leg that needed to be fixed (replaced femur rod and a knee clean-up). Now that is done, the leg definitely feels a lot better than it previously did. I’ll just keep fighting at this stage and make a call on riding ASAP.

Will you be good to go for Dakar 2018?
At this stage, everything is on track for Dakar 2018. I’m pretty damn certain on making that start line. With no races under my belt, my preparation isn’t going to be as good as I would have liked, but mentally I’m in a good place at the moment. It’s really taken a long time to get my leg fixed up properly and get back on track. It’s just the way it is with the femur being the biggest bone in the body, and the time it takes to heal. I’ll be focusing on keeping my fitness up in the lead-up to Dakar, and also polishing up on my navigational road book skills in the office. I’ll make the call by the start of December, but I definitely don’t want to miss it; that’s for sure!

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