No strategy for new Dakar leader Walkner

Matthias Walkner

Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s Matthias Walkner insists he is not going to think about strategy after moving into the lead of Dakar 2022 for the first time.

The 2018 Dakar Rally champion has replaced 2017 champion Sam Sunderland at the top of the overall classification after finishing fourth on Stage 9, around Wadi Ad Dawasir.

Sunderland, now second at 2:12s off the lead, was only 13th on that stage, which he had to open after setting the fastest time on the day prior.

Going out first and quite literally blazing a trail for those behind is a disadvantageous position to be in, and Sunderland’s now injured GasGas team-mate Daniel Sanders deliberately lost a stage win in the first week of the event in order to avoid that burden.

Walkner has given no indication of doing likewise in the last three days of this year’s Dakar Rally.

“In the end, I just continue to give my best and do what I do,” said the Austrian, who has either gained or held position in every stage so far.

“If it’s enough for a podium or a victory, then I’m super pumped and happy and if not, well, I cannot change it.

“I don’t prepare to handle the gaps; I just give 100 percent every day. It’s the maximum of what I can do.

“If it works out, I’m happy and pumped and if not, it’s like this.

“With three days to go, there is not really any strategy; just really staying on the navigation and the roadbook, try to avoid losing so much time.”

Sunderland admitted that opening for the first time this Dakar was a challenge, but was satisfied to have limited the damage.

“It was really like a stage with everything,” said the Briton.

“It was quite difficult to open the stage, especially in the dunes because the sunlight was quite bad and you couldn’t really see where the drops were.

“I really tried to focus on my navigation and it was pretty difficult again today, but it was not so bad considering I had to open the stage. This Dakar looks like that.”

One rider who will not be adding another Dakar title this time around is Walkner’s Australian KTM team-mate, Toby Price.

The 2016 and 2019 champion was ninth overall ahead of Stage 9 and, after time penalties for Lorenzo Santolino and Stefan Svitko, that is where he sits again.

However, Price is now 35:14s away from the rally lead with just three stages to come.

“It was a good day,” he said.

“I had a couple of little mistakes, but nothing too crazy.

“I’m starting a little way back tomorrow, so hopefully I’ll be able to grab a little time back then.

“Other than that, the bike is good, I feel good, we’ll keep on pushing tomorrow.”

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