Austria’s Matthias Walkner, the 2012 MX3 World Champion has been named as the latest member of the KTM Rally Factory Racing team. He will be the first Austrian on the start of the Dakar Rally since the legendary Heinz Kinigadner some 15 years ago.
“This is huge dream and a chance that I really want to use,” the 28-year-old Walkner, a KINI KTM rider, commented when he was officially introduced by Kinigadner on Friday as the latest member of the official KTM Rally Factory Racing team.
Walkner is due to start in the 2015 Dakar, the toughest and most famous rally in the world, and one that KTM has dominated since Italian Fabrizio Meoni took the first victory for the Austrian brand in 2001. Last year, Spain’s Marc Coma, Walkner’s team captain, picked up his fourth Dakar title on KTM. “Matthias is a very fast rider, but like any other, his first Dakar Rally will be very hard work,” Coma said. Coma was on hand to welcome his new team colleague at the KINI KTM Shop in the Austrian town of Wiesing in Tyrol when it celebrated its fourth anniversary. They are scheduled to ride together in the team for the first time in the Morocco Rally at the beginning of October, the final round of the 2014 World Cross Country Rallies Championship. Walkner will follow this up with intensive preparatory training with Coma in Spain.
Kinigadner, 250cc Motocross World Champion in 1984 and 1985 has been Walkner’s mentor on his way to joining the KTM Rally Factory Racing team. He made the transition to rally in the mid-1990s and commented: “It’s like you switch from racing the 100 meter sprint to the marathon. In motocross you ride for 30 minutes plus two laps and you put 110 percent effort into it. In the Dakar you ride a daily stage of 600 km or more and you are on the bike for seven or eight hours on average. The tempo is extremely high and you also have to navigate yourself. You have to find the right balance between attacking and being cautious.”
KTM Rally Factory Racing Team Manager Alex Doringer sees Walkner as having a very good chance of getting established in rally sport, saying: “Matthias is an exceptionally good, fast and very likeable rider.”
“I have the necessary speed otherwise I wouldn’t have been Motocross World Champion,” Walkner commented, but he still does not want to raise expectations about what might be possible in his first Dakar Rally. “My world championship title doesn’t count for anything when it comes to this. Everyone has to start from zero. My biggest goal is to get to the finish in Buenos Aires. And along the way I want learn with every meter and to gain experience. I’ll also be very satisfied when I can fulfill my tactical role for the KTM team to support Marc Coma in defending his title. And I’ll be very happy if I succeed in getting a top position in one or other stage.”
Kinigadner also believes this is an achievable goal for Walkner. “As a world class motocross rider, he clearly has the speed to stick with the best riders. But from my own experience I also know that it’s easy to want too much too quickly. Especially at the beginning of the Dakar, Matthias should be a bit conservative and concentrate on navigation and tactics. If he’s still got something in reserve after the first week then he can go for it a bit more”
KTM Team Manager Doringer also gave Walkner a vote of confidence: “He’s showed us time and again that he really wants to go to the Dakar and we’re convinced that he has the right abilities. The first time out we expect Matthias to learn quickly how the Dakar functions and what its all about. Above all, we’re very happy that 15 years after Heinz Kinigadner, we again have an Austrian in the factory team. The most important thing is that Matthias doesn’t get injured and that he makes it to the finish.”
The Dakar Rally
The world’s most prestigious and acclaimed rally celebrates its 36th edition in 2015 from January 4-17. The Dakar has been held in South America since 2009 after it was cancelled in 2008 because of security concerns in North Africa. The 2015 edition starts and finishes in Buenos Aires and travels more than 9000 km through Argentina, Bolivia and Chile. Only about half of the starters complete the rally.
Image courtesy KTM Racing