Rallye

Toby Price Leads KTM Stage Two Trifecta at Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge

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Starting further down the field, Toby Price was able to maximise the advantage and eventually crossed the finish with a time close to three-minutes ahead of team-mate Sunderland. Photo: Marcin Kin
The Red Bull KTM Factory Racing Team have got their 2018 FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship campaign off to the perfect start, taking the top three places on the first of five timed stages at the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge.

Australian Toby Price took the honors, followed by team-mates Sam Sunderland and Matthias Walkner.

Following Saturday‰Ûªs demonstration lap of the Yas Marina circuit in Abu Dhabi, Sunday‰Ûªs stage marked the first of five timed specials in the dunes to the south of the city. With no prologue to determine the start order, riders set off according to their final results from the 2017 world championship. Matthias Walkner was third away followed by Sam Sunderland in fifth and Toby Price a little further back, setting off 14th of the 26 riders.

With a total of 418.38km covered on today‰Ûªs stage, 276.01km were timed special. The first half of the stage proved to be faster and harder on tyres than anticipated and the three KTM riders were forced to swap wheels at the refuelling stop. The following half of the stage was made up of the soft sand characteristic of the area and the trio were able to push much harder and ultimately claim the top three positions on the day.

Not having tested with the rest of the team in Morocco, the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge marks the first time back on a KTM 450 RALLY since the Dakar for Toby Price. Starting further down the field, the former Dakar winner was able to maximise the advantage and eventually crossed the finish with a time close to three-minutes ahead of team-mate Sunderland.

"The day was really good today. We had a little issue with the fast hard-packed piste at the beginning of the stage, the tyres got really warm and we had to change them at the fuel stop," Price explained.

"After that it was just sand and then more sand," Price continued. "The bike performed perfectly, the team have done an excellent job preparing it for me, it‰Ûªs handling beautifully in the dunes. I‰Ûªm feeling comfortable even though it‰Ûªs my first time back on a rally bike since Dakar. I‰Ûªm looking forward to tomorrow now and seeing what the rest of the rally will bring.‰Û
Brit Sam Sunderland has returned to form with a strong second on stage 2 following an injury that took him out of this years Dakar. Photo: Marcin Kin
A small mistake navigating around a herd of camels on the second half of the timed special may have cost Qatar resident Sam Sunderland a little time. But his pace in the dunes is always impressive and the Brit went on to claim a strong runner-up position.

"Today went ok, I am happy with second, just a couple of minutes down on Toby," Sunderland said. "I did make a mistake this morning with the tyre choice and lost some time at the refuel to change the wheel. I then pushed hard on the second part of the stage but at one point came across a lot of camels that were right on the piste. I went around them, but then lost more time trying to get back on track. We still have another four stages to ride so I‰Ûªm looking forward to that.‰Û
Austrian Matthias Walkne kept to a fast but steady pace doing enough to finish the day third overall and putting him in a good position for Monday‰Ûªs timed special. Photo: Marcin Kin
2018 Dakar Rally winner Matthias Walkner was third away at the beginning of the stage. With only two riders ahead of him to chase down, the Austrian kept to a fast but steady pace doing enough to finish the day third overall and putting him in a good position for Monday‰Ûªs timed special.

"Today went well for me, especially as I was a little worried that I hadn‰Ûªt had enough on-bike time since the Dakar," Walkner reflected. "I also hurt my shoulder a little in testing and so didn‰Ûªt want to risk too much on this first stage. To finish third after setting off near the front is better than I expected and puts me in an ok start position for tomorrow, chasing down Toby and Sam. The rally is quite a tough one as 90% of it is ridden in the sand, so I‰Ûªll keep on riding consistently and see where I am at the finish.‰Û
Pablo Quintanilla opened the stage and despite finishing fifth, was not passed by another rider.
Monster Energy Honda Team's 's Kevin Benavides was nine minutes back from Walkner to finish fourth while defending champion Pablo Quintanilla was fifth.

"It was a good stage to warm up in the desert of the Arab Emirates," Benavides said. "I think that until the first CP I took a conservative pace and pushed a bit more later on, to be able to reduce the difference. We were ahead and knew that we would lose some time to the other riders coming from behind. Tomorrow it will be our turn to attack, but with a bit more confidence out in the desert."

Quintanilla is happy with his position with plenty more desert to come.

‰ÛÏIt was a really good stage for me today. I had the chance to open the stage all the way from the beginning to the end, and that was a great experience," Quintanilla said. "I managed to get a good pace so nobody was able to catch or pass me during the whole stage. As the first rider to take the start this morning, I knew it would be a great challenge to remain fast in the desert, but I‰Ûªm really happy I made it happen.

"I might have lost some time to the day‰Ûªs winner Toby Price, but this has just been the beginning of this rally and there‰Ûªs still a long way to go. My goal from now on is to catch the pace of the leading riders and try to push during the next few stages. I am satisfied with the job we did today and tomorrow I will do my best to make up some time in the provisional overall.‰Û
Monster Energy Honda Team's Kevin Benavides took the start this morning in second position, which made it easier for other riders to follow in his wake.

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