Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s Sam Sunderland has successfully completed the first full stage of the 2019 Atacama Rally in second place. Also posting impressive times on the challenging route, Matthias Walkner was fifth fastest, with Toby Price and Luciano Benavides both inside the top 10 in eighth and 10th respectively.
The Atacama Rally marks the third round of the 2019 FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship. Based in the Chilean mining town of Copiapó, the event includes five full stages of racing covering over 1,300 kilometres of timed specials. The race got underway on Monday evening with a short 3.8-kilometre Prologue super-special, which was used to decide the start order for Tuesday’s stage one. Returning to rally competition for the first time since the Dakar, Toby Price posted the fastest time and as such, chose to set off as the 15th rider to enter the opening stage.
It was Sam Sunderland however that finished as top KTM at the end of the fast 230-kilometre stage. The current 2019 FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship leader was the ninth rider into the timed special and immediately began to chase down the riders ahead of him. Ultimately posting the second-fastest time, less than three minutes down on the eventual stage-winner, the British rider put himself into a strong position going into Wednesday’s stage two – one of the longest of the event.
Sam Sunderland: “I’m happy to get the event started after the short Prologue – today was the beginning of the real race and I’m pleased with my result. It always takes a little time to adapt to the different style of terrain here in Chile. The stages are so fast, it’s difficult to take your eyes off the piste to check your road book.
It’s always a challenge to try and find your rhythm because you want to maintain your speed, but the route is littered with rocks and other dangers. I felt good today – I did have a little issue with my GPS, which I was a little concerned about, but in the end I didn’t lose much time. It’s a long race, and always brings some surprises, so I’ll just take it day-by-day.”
Returning to competition following an injury sustained earlier in the year, Matthias Walkner rode a superb stage one to post the fifth-fastest time. Despite feeling slightly outside of his comfort zone when faced with the high average speeds of the special, the 2018 Dakar Rally Champion was happy with his performance and hopes to build on his pace as the rally progresses.
Matthias Walkner: “I had a good day today – I’m pleased with a top-five finish. I did feel a little out of my comfort zone as it’s so fast and I’m not quite up to speed yet. All-in-all, everything went ok – it was a good first day back in the saddle. I lost six minutes to the leader so not too bad for the opening stage. The bike was working perfect, so that will help my confidence as the rally goes on. Hopefully I can take things step-by-step and slowly build my pace.”
Also returning to rally competition in Chile, Toby Price put in a solid performance on the rocky pistes of stage one to finish eighth. Combined with his Prologue win, the Australian sits sixth in the provisional overall standings and will enjoy a favourable start to tomorrow’s stage where he hopes to make up valuable minutes on the leaders.
Toby Price: “I had a good day today – I’m happy to finally be able to get into a roadbook, work on my navigation and get some confidence back. I’ve still got a little work to do with the wrist, but overall I feel good and I’m looking forward to day two.”
Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s Junior Class rider Luciano Benavides had a challenging day one but brought his KTM 450 RALLY home in a creditable 10th place. Continuing to learn and find confidence on the faster stages in Chile, the 24-year-old is aiming to improve his rhythm while minimising any mistakes and ultimately earn himself valuable points for his Junior World Championship campaign.
Luciano Benavides: “It was a tough stage for me today, the desert here in Chile is really tricky to navigate so I was just trying to get used to the piste and find a good rhythm. Overall, I think I put in a solid stage, but I would like to be a little further up the order. My aim is to improve as the race goes on but most of all get a good finish and stay safe on the bike.”
The second stage of the 2019 Atacama Rally takes riders in a loop, south from Copiapó towards the city of Vallenar. The gruelling 294-kilometre timed special will once again test riders’ speed and navigation on the fast, arduous route.
Provisional Results – Stage 1 Atacama Rally 2019
1. Pablo Quintanilla (CHI), Husqvarna, 2:22:24
2. Sam Sunderland (GBR), KTM, 2:25:14 +2:50
3. Kevin Benavides (ARG), Honda, 2:26:43 +4:19
4. Ricky Brabec (USA), Honda, 2:27:41 +5:17
5. Matthias Walkner (AUT), KTM, 2:29:09 +6:45
8. Toby Price (AUS), KTM, 2:30:20 +7:56
10. Luciano Benavides (ARG), KTM, 2:34:57 +12:33
Provisional Standings – Atacama Rally 2019 after 1 of 5 stages
1. Pablo Quintanilla (CHI), Husqvarna, 2:33:16
2. Sam Sunderland (GBR), KTM, 2:36:14 +2:58
3. Kevin Benavides (ARG), Honda, 2:37:59 +4:43
4. Ricky Brabec (USA), Honda, 2:38:25 5:09
5. Matthias Walkner (AUT), KTM, 2:40:17 +7:01
6. Toby Price (AUS), KTM, 2:40:36 +7:20
10. Luciano Benavides (ARG), KTM, 2:45:37 +12:21