Dakar champion defects to KTM

Kevin Benavides

This year’s Dakar champion, Kevin Benavides, has defected from Honda to KTM.

The Argentine led a Monster Energy Honda one-two in 2021 after finishing second to Red Bull KTM’s Matthias Walkner in 2018.

However, Benavides’ fifth Dakar Rally start with the Japanese marque, after debuting in 2016 and missing 2017 due to injury, will be his last for the foreseeable future.

His first start for KTM is expected to be Rally Kazakhstan, Round 1 of the FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship, in June.

“I feel so excited to join the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing team, it’s a big, big change for me,” said Benavides.

“As Dakar champion the move is an important new chapter in my racing career.

“I have always been a fan of KTM bikes, of Red Bull, and of how the team is organised – I truly believe that it’s the best choice for me to further my racing and to be able to challenge for more Dakar wins and the World Championship title.

“I have always enjoyed taking on new challenges in my life and I’m really looking forward to getting to know the team, the bike, and pushing myself even harder.

“The plan, after my first visit to the factory in Austria, is to head out to Dubai and get some time on the bike, and with the team. The goal for this year is to try and adapt to the bike as quickly as possible and get to know all the people in the new team so that I feel comfortable and can concentrate on my riding.

“I hope to be able to continue my own training programme – I like to spend as much time on the bikes as possible, including the rally bike but also motocross and enduro, too.

“Looking ahead to next year, the ultimate goal would be to win back-to-back Dakars.

“I have already been lucky enough to be a factory supported rider in enduro years ago, so to now be back on a KTM and in the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing rally team is a dream and a real honour. I’m really thankful for the opportunity and can’t wait to get racing.”

Benavides and KTM motorsports director Pit Beirer

Benavides gave Honda its second Dakar crown in a row, and its first one-two since 1987, after KTM had won the event 18 times in a row.

KTM Factory Racing team manager Jordi Viladoms hopes that its 32-year-old recruit will be able to take the Austrian manufacturer back to the top in the famous rally raid.

“This is an exciting time for Red Bull KTM Factory Racing, and we are pleased to be welcoming Kevin to the team,” said Viladoms.

“His results speak for themselves and I am sure his wealth of knowledge, experience, as well as his competitive motivation, will bring a lot to our team.

“This, combined with our vast experience, ensures a strong collaboration, which we believe will be of great benefit to all of us.

“Our rally programme is enjoying some changes as we focus on the future as well as our goals of winning the World Championship, and bringing the Dakar title back to Austria.

“We look forward to beginning our testing program with Kevin, ready for the first round of the World Championship in the next few months.”

Sam Sunderland was KTM’s best in the 2021 Dakar by finishing third overall, one position ahead of Australian rookie team-mate Daniel Sanders.

Walkner rounded out the top 10 after a gearbox-related problem on Stage 2, while Toby Price crashed out on Stage 9 having started the day just over a minute off the pace.

Rally Kazakhstan runs from June 7-13.

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