Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s Matthias Walkner entered the final timed special stage of the 2018 Dakar Rally with a healthy 22-minute lead over his nearest competitor. Holding his nerve and completing the “short” 120km loop around the Argentinian city of Córdoba, the KTM 450 Rally mounted rider did exactly what he needed to do to win the 2018 Dakar Rally. Walkner’s victory, the first for an Austrian rider in the motorcycle class, is an astonishing 17th in a row for KTM, who have won each and every edition of the Dakar since the rally moved to South America in 2009.

Walkner unquestionably put in a champion’s performance at this year’s event. The former FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Champion rode intelligently from the very first stage, finding the right balance between out-and-out speed and error-free navigation. Stage 10 was again a game-changer in the rally with Walkner ending the day with an almost 30-minute advantage over his nearest competitors.

Reaching the finish of the final stage in eighth position, Matthias was finally able to relax and celebrate a well-deserved overall win and let his historic achievement sink in.

“It’s unbelievable – I can’t describe how it feels, Walkner said. This year’s Dakar has been so difficult, easily the toughest rally of my career. Navigation has been tricky pretty much every day. At the beginning of the race, all the top guys were so close with not much time between us. I just tried to keep on doing well each day without making any mistakes. Things were so tight right up to my stage victory. After that I aimed to finish each day safely and get to the end of the rally without losing my advantage. Luckily the tactics worked out and I’m here at the end now as the winner and it feels unreal. Thank you to my team and everyone that has supported me – we did it!”

Last year’s winner, Sam Sunderland, withdrew from the Dakar after a crash left him with two crushed disks in his spin and no feeling in his legs. He is recovering well at home in Bournemouth with family.

Visiting US rider Cody Barnes gets advice from former Kiwi international Paul Whibley during a ‘boot camp’ training session in New Zealand. Photo by Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ.com

To be the best, you need to learn from the best and that’s the theory that young American cross-country rider Cody Barnes hopes will work for him.

A rising star on the Grand National Cross-Country (GNCC) racing scene in the United States, Barnes this month accepted an invitation from Manawatu’s former Kiwi international Paul Whibley and his partner April Mainland to attend a “boot camp” in New Zealand, a particularly welcome offer since the opportunity for him to train at home is limited at the moment, with sub-zero temperatures blasting the east coast of the US.

The 18-year-old Barnes will be in New Zealand for three weeks, the Illinois racer here to train under the watchful gaze of two-time former GNCC champion Whibley and fellow dirt bike racer Mainland.

“We’ve created this boot camp experience to be in line with what I underwent when I was preparing in New Zealand for my American campaigns,” said Yamaha ace Whibley.

“My intention is to show Cody (Barnes), and other US riders in the future too, what I did to train when I was at the top of my game. It also helps to keep me motivated for my own racing here at home.”

In addition to winning two GNCC crowns (in 2009 and 2012), the now 39-year-old Whibley is a record six-time winner of the parallel Off-Road Motorcycle and ATV (OMA) in the US and, on resettlement back home at the end of his  final season in America in 2014, he quickly took his Yamaha YZ450F to become 2015 New Zealand cross-country champion.

The skills, drive, determination, strength and stamina that took Whibley to the top of cross-country racing scene internationally will be passed on to Barnes and, when he returns to the US next month, Barnes will be well-prepared to turn those lessons into results.

“It has been perfect so far for me,” said Barnes. “Training at Paul’s place (at Taikorea) was great too because the sand there is exactly like what I’ll face when the GNCC series hits Florida and it was perfect training for muscle endurance too.

“Coming here was the first time I’d ever been on an airplane and, obviously, my first time in New Zealand, but I’m loving it. Paul took me up a mountain the other day and, so far, he’s been kicking my arse. The training has been a real effort but that’s what I need.

“Paul’s still a legend in the US and it’s great to come here and see what he did to make it to the top.”

Barnes says he will most likely be racing a Yamaha YZ125 in the XC3 class at the 2018 GNCC series, which kicks off in South Carolina on February 25.

Words and photo by Andy McGechan

Check out a rad little edit from the Acerbis 4 Hour Cross Country race near Taupo from Snowman Films. 


KTM Factory Racing is, as the brand likes to point out at every opportunity, READY TO RACE at the 2018 Dakar Rally with Red Bull riders Sam Sunderland, Matthias Walkner, Toby Price, Antoine Meo along with Laia Sanz and Luciano Benavides.

Officially launched at the recent EICMA show in Milan, complete with its traditional Red Bull livery, the all-new 450 Factory Rally boasts many performance improvements over last year’s model. A new engine and management system gives riders more accurate throttle response, a new chassis and swingarm provides sharper handling and newly designed fuel tanks and bodywork ensure the bike feels slimmer and is more manoeuvrable.

Reigning Dakar Champ, Sam Sunderland, feels good about the teams chances of tasting success once again at the Dakar.

“I am feeling really positive, he says. I’m feeling really fast and strong on the new 450 – my fitness is good at the moment and I have no injuries. We have had the final shake down test on the new bike and it went very well. There’s always a lot of work and preparation in the last couple of months on the run up to Dakar. Trying to balance all the factors of testing, training and travelling always makes for a busy time before Dakar.

“Now I would like to be able to reward the team for all their hard work with a good result, which is what I’m working towards. We were able to do that at the bike’s first outing in Morocco when Matthias took the win. Everyone in the team is focused on Dakar.”

With 16 consecutive wins at one of the most notoriously tough races on the planet, KTM and the all-new 450 Factory Rally machine will be battling for success when the 40th Edition of the Dakar Rally begins in Lima, Peru on January 6th.


Liam Draper was in sensational form on his Husqvarna FC250 at the weekend. Photo by Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ.com

 It is a record three wins in a row for Husqvarna star Liam Draper after he again won the annual Dead Toad cross-country race in the Woodhill Forest, west of Auckland, on Sunday.

 This event, which also doubled as the sixth round of seven in the separate NZXC Series, was also won by the 21-year-old Howick man in 2015 and in 2016 and his convincing win on Sunday made him the first rider to win it three times consecutively.

It was also Draper’s third major success since returning to the race track after spending more than seven months recovering from injury.

However, since receiving the “all clear” to race again, he has wasted no time in building up his strength, speed and stamina.

He took his Husqvarna FC250 four-stroke to win the third round of four in the popular Woodhill Two-man Cross-country Series west of Auckland in September, then backed that up with another impressive win at round five of the NZXC Series at Matata last month.

“I managed to get a reasonable start on Sunday and then quickly picked off each of the riders ahead of me. I passed (Muriwai’s) Luke Mobberley for second place and then (Helensville’s) Tom Buxton for the lead about halfway through the opening lap,” Draper explained.

“I put the hammer down for the next lap and a half and opened out a bit of a gap over the (more than 50) riders chasing me.

“The sand was so soft that it was very tiring to race and the track got quite rough in the end.”

 Manawatu’s Paul Whibley, a two-time former Grand National Cross-country (GNCC) champion in the United States, was also fighting through traffic and he made his way up to second place, eventually finishing the five-lap race one minute and 10 seconds adrift of Draper.

Third overall was Titirangi’s Callan May, with Mobberley and Buxton rounding out the top five.

Draper’s win at the weekend is further vindication that he will be ready to push ahead with his plans to race in the United States next year.

“I crashed at the New Zealand Motocross Grand Prix at Woodville in late January and snapped a tricep muscle in my left arm. I was in a sling for a long time and had to have surgery too, but I was still able to train and keep a core fitness,” he explained.

Before his injury, Draper had already been planning to race in the United States and now those plans have simply been pushed on 12 months.

“I will be heading to South Carolina to race the Grand National Cross-country Series there in 2018 and I’m pretty excited about that.”

Meanwhile, the seventh and final round of the NZXC series is set for Pahiatua on December 3.

Words and photo by Andy McGechan