The Red Bull KTM Factory Racing team of Sam Sunderland, Toby Price, Matthias Walkner and Luciano Benavides will soon begin their participation in the fourth and final round of the 2019 FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship. Joined by KTM Factory Racing’s Laia Sanz and Mario Patrao, the event marks the team’s final competitive outing before the 2020 Dakar Rally.
Celebrating its 20th edition in 2019, the Rally du Maroc will challenge competitors with over 2,500 kilometres of racing close to the oasis town of Erfoud in the Sahara Desert. Friday’s short Prologue is then followed by five tough stages, 80 percent ridden in soft sand dunes. The timed specials total close to 1,900 kilometres and the riders will also have a marathon stage to contend with.
Following his victorious performances at the first two races of the championship, Sam Sunderland finished as runner-up at the penultimate round in Chile to clinch the 2019 Cross-Country Rallies title. With the pressure truly lifted, the British rider heads to Morocco with the advantage of being able to work on his bike set up ahead of next year’s Dakar Rally. Always a team player, Sam is also prepared to assist his Red Bull KTM colleagues where necessary, but will still be in the fight for a solid result.
Sam Sunderland: “Now the pressure is off, it will be nice to have a good safe run in Morocco without having to take any unnecessary risks. The best thing is, we’re able to test things and change a lot of settings mid-race. You’re not able to do that so much in a championship fight as you don’t want to change the way the bike feels or try something extreme that might not work at all. With no pressure, we can try new things as the rally goes on and to have that opportunity to test under full race conditions is a real advantage. I’m a racer though, racers always want to win, so when we get to Morocco I’m still going to be taking things seriously.”
Currently fourth in the championship, Luciano Benavides is still in the hunt to claim second place if things go well in Morocco. The young Argentinian is also leading the charge in the Junior World Championship and securing that title will be top priority.
Luciano Benavides: “This is the first race of the season that I’ve done before, so I’m hoping to feel comfortable straight away with the nature of the rally and the terrain. My main goal is to earn enough points to win the Junior Championship – this has been the target since the beginning of the season – but I’m also hoping to finish on the podium in the overall. If I ride a good, strong race I believe I can do it. I’ve put in a lot of training and preparation for this round so hopefully it all pays off.”
Returning to competition at round three – the Atacama Rally in Chile – Toby Price and Matthias Walkner will now use the Rally du Maroc to continue to build their pace, navigation and bike settings. The two former Dakar winners will still be aiming for top results in Morocco however, having both previously won the event.
Toby Price: “The Atacama Rally went really well for me – it was a great way to come back after so long off the bike and I was really happy with my performance. I still have a bit of work to do on the wrist, but the plan for Morocco is just take each day as it comes and try and build on my speed. I’m hoping for a good, safe finish and then continue building for the Dakar in January.”
Matthias Walkner: “I’m really looking forward to racing Morocco. It felt great to be back on the bike at the last round, but took me a while to get back up to speed, especially on the super-fast pistes. The terrain in the Sahara should be quite similar to Saudi Arabia so it will give us a good chance to work on our set up. The goal is to get some good time on the bike and make it to the finish healthy.”
KTM Factory Racing’s Laia Sanz’ last rally event was the Silk Way Rally back in July, where she finished in an excellent seventh place overall. Opting not to race in Chile, Laia now returns to action on her KTM 450 RALLY in Morocco and hopes to utilise her time onboard to the fullest by finding a good set up ahead of the 10-day Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia next January.
Laia Sanz: “I’m excited to go to Morocco because I was forced to miss last year’s event due to feeling unwell, so it’s nice to be almost back to full fitness now. Because I’ve not ridden all the rounds of the championship, the focus at the Rally du Maroc is to ride a safe race and do some good preparation for Dakar. Of course, when you put your helmet on things change and you want to get your very best result but really the goal is to concentrate on training. It will be good to spend time with the whole team and hopefully we can continue to find good settings on the bike for the best possible start next year.”
Mario Patrao returns to the KTM Factory Racing team for the first time since the 2019 Dakar Rally where he was forced to retire following a crash on stage six. The experienced Portuguese rider will recommence his support role within the team and will be aiming for a solid result in Morocco while clocking up valuable testing miles on his KTM 450 RALLY machine.
The Rally du Maroc Prologue commences on Friday October 4, followed by five full days of racing in the Sahara Desert before the finish on October 9 at Fez, Morocco.