Held in the west of the country, and based in the coastal city of Aktau, Rally Kazakhstan will cover a total distance of 2,270 km, of which 1,465 km will be timed special stage with competitors racing through the mixed terrain of the Mangystau region. June 8 will see the traditional ceremonial start, held on the Caspian Sea shore of Aktau City, that will then be followed by five tough days of racing, including one marathon stage, before the finish on June 13. Both Sunderland and Walkner will be looking to get their world championship campaigns off to a positive start with strong performances in the Kazakhstan dirt.
Showing strong and consistent pace throughout the 2021 Dakar Rally, Sam Sunderland was rewarded for his efforts with a third-place podium finish. Following some time off his KTM 450 RALLY, during which Sunderland worked on his fitness as well as general bike-handling skills, the Brit recently returned to testing with the team in Spain. Working closely with his mechanics, Sam made some encouraging changes to the handling of his bike and is now keen to put them to the test as he defends his 2019 FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship title at Rally Kazakhstan.
Sam Sunderland: “I am feeling good at the moment. We’ve been doing some really constructive testing with the team in Spain, and it’s been great to get the feel of things back after Dakar. We’ve made some changes to the bike’s settings, mostly with the suspension so it’s good to make some really positive steps there. I’m looking forward to seeing how they work out in a full race situation. The goal for me for this year is to keep the number one on my bike, which I won in 2019. Obviously, with no championship last year I’m still carrying the #1 plate. Hopefully, a strong start to the series in Kazakhstan will lead to another good year.”
Matthias Walkner also enjoyed a strong showing at this year’s Dakar. Unfortunately, an issue early on ruled him out of the fight for the podium, despite having the outright speed to do so. By varying his training over the last few months, riding everything from motocross to enduro, and even in the snow at home in Austria, Walkner has focused on the basics – endurance, and ultimate speed in all conditions. With a full calendar of events ahead of him on the lead up to the 2022 Dakar, Matthias is eager to claim his second world championship title.
Matthias Walkner: “I’m super excited to start the world championship season, it feels great to be back on the rally bike again. The first round is looking really interesting because hardly any of the leading riders have been to Kazakhstan and so the race should be a good test for all of us. I’m really looking forward to racing in a new country and experiencing some different landscapes. My preparation in the off-season has been going well. I’ve really tried to focus on my bike skills – getting back out on the motocross bike and working on my speed. Testing in Spain has gone well, we made some good changes and I’m really happy with how I feel on the bike. The plan now is to do my best at round one of the championship and keep working hard for the rest of the year.”
Unfortunately, following his crash at the 2021 Dakar Rally, Toby Price is not yet fit to race. The Australian hopes to be back on his bike within the next few weeks and plans to return to competition later in the series. Similarly, Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s latest signing, Kevin Benavides, injured his shoulder in a training incident while testing with the team. The reigning Dakar Champion recently underwent successful surgery, which will aid his recovery. Like Price, Benavides also hopes to be back contesting the FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship as soon as possible on his KTM 450 RALLY.
Jordi Viladoms – KTM Rally Team Manager: “We’re really excited to be back racing the world championship. Obviously, last year we didn’t participate due to the Covid situation so it’s great to be looking forward to a full list of events. There is some bad news, as both Toby Price and Kevin Benavides will not be able to participate in Kazakhstan as they are still recovering from injury. Toby is close to being 100% fit following his injury at this year’s Dakar, and our newest signing, Kevin, has unfortunately just undergone surgery to repair some damage he did to his shoulder in a practice crash. I hope to see them both back racing as soon as possible. However, we still have a really strong pair of riders with Sam and Matthias. Both are in good condition and should go well in Kazakhstan. The race is new for us, so we plan to gain some good experience from it, get the whole team back up to speed and hopefully come away with a strong result.”
The Rally Kazakhstan commences with Stage One on Wednesday, June 9, followed by another four days of racing before the finish in Aktau on June 13.