Sam Sunderland of KTM won the 2017 Dakar Rally on his KTM. CS Santosh finished in 47th position overall on his Hero Speedbrain motorcycle, while teammate Joaquim Rodrigues finished 10th, an impressive performance for the team’s first outing at the Dakar. Sherco TVS also had a strong showing with Juan Garcia Pedrero finishing 13th and Adrien Metge finishing in 23rd position overall.
The 2017 Dakar Rally, an edition that delivered its share of drama was finally settled on Saturday when Red Bull KTM factory riders, Britain’s Sam Sunderland and Austrian teammate Matthias Walkner crossed the line 1-2 to give the Austrian brand its 16th consecutive victory. Spain’s Gerard Farres Guell completed a perfect day when he finished third for a complete KTM podium.
Sam Sunderland and Matthias Walkner not only succeeded in taking the top two spots, but also to complete the rally for the first time. Both had retired injured in earlier editions.
Sunderland went into the final swift 64 km timed special with 33-minute advantage on his KTM 450 RALLY and the task of holding his nerve and getting the job done. He completed the stage in a comfortable sixth place and sacrificed only a couple of minutes. After almost 9,000 km through Paraguay, Bolivia and Argentina, he topped the overall timesheets with a total time of 32:06.22 hours.
It was also an excellent performance by Walkner, who exited in 2016 with a broken leg that kept him out of competition for much of the past season. He was under slightly more pressure on the run to the finish as he had two riders, Gerard Farres Guell and Adrien Van Beveren, the eventual stage winner, in hot pursuit. Walkner finished fourth in the stage and was 33 seconds off the leading time, which was enough to preserve his position.
Sunderland and Walkner stepped up and delivered for the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing Team after teammate and 2016 winner, Toby Price of Australia, went out in the fourth stage after crashing and breaking his leg in four places. After surgery in La Paz, the Australian desert champion has now returned to Australia with the aim of being back on his KTM 450 RALLY machine in four months.
Sunderland: “When I crossed the line my emotions really took over. I’ve had a lot of weight on my shoulders for the last six days. Now it feels incredible. I have to say thanks to my team, the bike has been great from start to finish. When Toby (Price) went out of the race it was a blow to the team as he’s a good friend. Because of the strong bonds we have in our team it helped us to pull together and strive to do something special. There’s a lot of fast guys that have the potential to win this race, I think cutting out the mistakes was the key to this win.”
Walkner: “This was a really rough Dakar so to arrive in Buenos Aires on the podium is an amazing feeling. I had a tough year last year, so to be here now is a dream come true. The hardest moment came on Stage 10 because there was the potential for my position to change on this day. I really studied the road book before the stage to hopefully get some advantage. That paid off for and it felt cool to get rewarded like this.”
Spanish KTM factory rider Laia Sanz, who had a very successful second week after losing time in the first week, wrapped up her rally at 16th overall, just one place short of her pre-race goal of a top 15 finish. Also the women’s World Enduro Champion, Sanz is the standout woman rally-raid rider.
KTM first won the Dakar Rally in 2001 and has topped the podium every subsequent year, with the exception of 2008 when the race was canceled on the eve of departure because of terrorist threats in North Africa. It regrouped for the 2008 edition, held in for the first time in South America, where it has developed a huge following and is an annual sporting highlight. The sport is also attracting a new generation of South American rally-raid talent.
The 2017 edition started in Paraguay, travelled to the high altitude regions of Bolivia and then south and east through Argentina. The already extraordinarily challenging two-week event, this year introduced new navigation and levels of difficulty. It was also plagued by extremes of weather – temperatures from the 40 degrees Celsius to freezing, altitudes up to 4500 meters, torrential rains, flooding and in the last week, a massive landslide in Argentina that not only destroyed a village but left teams and vehicles trapped for 24 hours. The extreme weather conditions also resulted in two stages being canceled and another two cut at the half way mark of the timed special when flood waters made it impossible to continue.
Alex Doringer, KTM’s Division Manager Enduro and Rally: “The Dakar, with all these circumstances, with the weather, the rain and muddy conditions, it was quite difficult for the team from a logistics point of view. I think for the riders, it was quite a different Dakar. There were not as many kilometers of special stages but it was intensive both physically and mentally. Sam did a fantastic job and he was very consistent. Also Matthias was the same.” Doringer also paid tribute to Sanz, saying: “What the lady does is amazing.”
While the Dakar Rally attracts the world’s elite rally-raid riders, it is also a magnet for private teams and amateur riders who make up most of the field of competitors. Ninety-seven, of the original field of 146 were at the finish in Buenos Aires.
The remarkable spirit of the Dakar was perfectly captured in two incidents. Speaking from his hospital bed in La Paz after a massive crash in the fourth stage, Price said his biggest regret was letting down his team. Then, on Thursday, Slovakian KTM rider Stefan Svitko, who finished second last year collapsed with exhaustion at the end of the special and had to be transported by ambulance to the bivouac. He later returned, picked up his bike and was on the start for Friday’s penultimate stage. Svitko crossed the finish line in overall 25th place.
1 SUNDERLAND SAM (GBR) KTM 450 RALLY REPLICA 32h06m22s
2 WALKNER MATTHIAS (AUT) KTM 450 RALLY REPLICA 32h38m22s +32m00s
3 FARRES GUELL GERARD (ESP) KTM 450 RALLY 32h42m02s +35m40s
4 VAN BEVEREN ADRIEN (FRA) YAMAHA WR450F 32h42m50s +36m28s
5 BARREDA BORT JOAN (ESP) HONDA CRF450RALLY 32h49m30s +43m08s
6 GONÇALVES PAULO (PRT) HONDA CRF450RALLY 32h58m51s +52m29s
7 RENET PIERRE ALEXANDRE (FRA) HUSQVARNA FR 450 RALLY 33h03m57s +57m35s
8 CAIMI FRANCO (ARG) HONDA CRF450 RALLY 33h48m40s +01h42m18s
9 RODRIGUES HELDER (PRT) YAMAHA WR450F 34h09m28s +02h03m06s
10 RODRIGUES JOAQUIM (PRT) HERO SPEEDBRAIN 450 RALLY 34h25m59s +02h19m37s
11 SALVATIERRA JUAN CARLOS (BOL) KTM 450 34h29m15s +02h22m53s
12 KLYMCIW ONDREJ (CZE) HUSQVARNA HUSQVARNA FR 450 RALLY 34h29m52s +02h23m30s
13 PEDRERO GARCIA JUAN (ESP) SHERCO TVS RTR 450 34h39m08s +02h32m46s
14 METGE MICHAEL (FRA) HONDA CRF450RALLY 02h11m30s 34h44m54s +02h38m32s
15 DUPLESSIS DIEGO MARTIN (ARG) KTM 450 RALLY EXC 35h07m26s +03h01m04s
16 SANZ LAIA (ESP) KTM 450 RALLY REPLICA 35h08m16s +03h01m54s
17 GYENES EMANUEL (ROU) KTM 450 RALLY REPLICA 35h54m58s +03h48m36s
18 SMITH TODD (AUS) KTM 450 RR 35h59m47s +03h53m25s
19 OLIVERAS CARRERAS DANIEL (ESP) KTM 450 36h06m19s +03h59m57s
20 PATRAO MÁRIO (PRT) KTM 450 RALLY 36h10m52s +04h04m30s
21 ESPAÑA MUÑOZ CRISTIAN (AND) KTM WR 450 36h16m48s +04h10m26s
22 METGE ADRIEN (FRA) SHERCO TVS RTR 450 36h25m31s +04h19m09s
47 CS SANTOSH (IND) HERO SPEEDBRAIN 450 RALLY 42h01m16s +09h54m54s