Walkner Leads in Kazakhstan

Posted on June 10, 2021

Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s Matthias Walkner has put in another superb performance at the 2021 Rally Kazakhstan to finish as second fastest on stage two, moving himself into the provisional lead of the event. Sam Sunderland also enjoyed a strong showing, placing sixth for sixth overall with three days left to race.

Stage two of the rally was the first half of the event’s marathon stage. With very little in the way of liaison, riders soon entered the day’s 280km timed special that led them east from Aktau towards the temporary bivouac at Kenderly, on the Caspian Sea coast. Starting with open desert, the route turned more technical on the run back down to the finish, testing competitors’ speed and navigation skills. With no outside assistance allowed, and with only 30 minutes to carry out any needed maintenance, riders also had to preserve their machines in order to arrive safely and to be ready for Friday’s stage three.

Showing both impressive pace and consistency as the rally progresses, Matthias Walkner’s hard work is paying off as the Austrian now sits at the top of the provisional standings. Times are close however, and Walkner knows he will have to remain focused in order to successfully defend his lead over the next few days. Enjoying a relatively trouble-free ride on stage two to arrive at the bivouac with both himself and his KTM 450 RALLY in good shape, Matthias will again set off as the second rider tomorrow, for Friday’s stage three. The 2018 Dakar Rally Champion will need to put in another consistent ride to hold off his chasing rivals.

Continuing to impress on his FIM Cross-Country Rallies debut for Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing, Howes was the third rider to enter stage two and immediately set about chasing down the two riders ahead of him. Covering the fast 280km timed special in just less than two hours and 40 minutes, the American was able to minimise any mistakes and maintain a fast, calculated pace on the open pistes of the route. Reaching the finish with a one-minute-and-ten-second advantage over the second-placed rider was enough for Howes to elevate himself to second overall in the standings. He will now be the first rider to face the second half of the event’s marathon stage on day three but hopes to continue right at the sharp end of the results and not lose too much time to the chasing pack.

Rally Kazakhstan marks Luciano Benavides’ return to competitive competition following the race-ending crash he suffered at the Dakar Rally, earlier this year. As such the young Argentinian continues to build back his confidence and pace as the event progresses. Placing seventh on stage two, Benavides moves up from 11th overall to eighth, and with three long days of racing ahead of him, he hopes to make up even more time over the next few stages.

As the seventh rider to enter the day’s stage, Sam Sunderland set off with the goal of making up time on the competitors in front. Pushing hard right from the start, by the one-hour mark, the Brit put himself in the fight for the stage win. A small navigation mistake following the refueling cost him dearly however, with Sunderland dropping back down the order to eighth by the second checkpoint. With much of the remainder of the stage raced over extremely fast pistes and open desert, Sam chose to ease his pace a little in order to conserve his bike and to ensure a safe finish. Ultimately ending the day as sixth fastest, Sunderland will enjoy an advantageous start position for Friday’s stage three – the longest special of the event.

Rally Kazakhstan continues with the long 533.57km stage three. Returning to the bivouac, and their teams at Aktau, riders will face a 331.83km timed special – the longest of the event. Again, mixed terrain faces all competitors with bike preservation also a major factor in arriving safely at the finish of the demanding stage.

Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing’s Skyler Howes has won stage two of Rally Kazakhstan. Showing huge skill and speed on his FR 450 Rally, the American rider now lies second overall in the provisional rally standings, just 22 seconds down on the event leader. Luciano Benavides enjoyed a more promising day in the Kazakhstani desert. With his confidence improving, the Argentinian claimed seventh place, six and a half minutes down on his teammate.

Consistency is paying off for Daniel Sanders at Rally Kazakhstan with the Aussie placing eighth on stage two to move up to seventh in the overall provisional classification. Despite a few mistakes along the way, Sanders completed leg one of the event’s marathon stage unscathed and with his GASGAS RC 450F Rally bike in good shape ahead of stage three.

Matthias Walkner: “Another really good day for me, and it was a beautiful stage to race, ending up riding along close to the sea. I started off second, and although setting off early is often a disadvantage, I was able to really focus on my navigation today and thankfully it wasn’t too tricky. I’m feeling extremely comfortable on the bike at the moment, which is great for my confidence, and it meant I was able to find a really good pace for the stage. Again, I finished second, which doesn’t give me the best start position for tomorrow, but if I can do the same again and not make any mistakes, I hopefully won’t lose much time. It feels great to be leading the rally, although it’s very close at the top and there are still three days to go. I’ll keep doing my best each day and keep enjoying it.”

Skyler Howes: “That was a fast stage today – really, really fast. Before the refuelling I had a couple of scary moments in some rain ruts, but after that I was able to gather myself together and put the hammer back down. I actually had a lot of fun racing through the fast trails, and everything went good – the navigation went ok, I only made a few tiny mistakes like going past a corner too far, but otherwise, no major errors at all. The day went well, and I was able to go fastest on the special, which only puts me 22 seconds off the rally lead so that feels good. Now I must lead out tomorrow, so we’ll see how that goes, but otherwise I’m having a lot of fun.”

Andrew Short: "Stage two was really fast. The navigation was a bit easier than expected and it was pretty much wide open all day. The turns were fast as well so the stage wasn’t quite as interesting as yesterday, but I’m really happy to place third and complete the first part of the marathon stage. It’s good to be in such a great position overall this early in the rally, it was an awesome day for Yamaha." 

Ross Branch: "It was a fast one today. I opened the road which I really enjoyed as I need that experience to improve my riding. I made a little navigational mistake after the first fuel stop, which was frustrating, but it’s all part of the learning curve. I had a lot of fun today and I like the high speeds, so it was a nice stage for me. I opened the stage and didn’t lose much time overall so I’m really happy about that. It was the first leg of the marathon today and I didn’t really have to do anything to my bike. Overall, it’s been a great day."

Adrien Van Beveren: "Today was ok. Unlike yesterday I rode alone for most of it, which was great as I could focus on myself and my riding. I’m still getting used to the roadbook that we’re using for this rally and with the high speeds that we had today, it was tricky to follow at times. I feel great on the bike, I’m comfortable, and it’s working well. As it was the first part of the marathon stage, I had to prepare the bike for tomorrow. I put some new brake pads in, more of a precautionary thing really, and now I’ll take some rest and focus on the final three days of racing."

Sam Sunderland: “My day went ok today, I felt great up to the refueling and was probably in the fight for the stage win. After that I came across a tricky note in the road book that caught me out a little with several pistes very close together. I made a small mistake, but it ended up costing me a few minutes. A lot of the stage was extremely fast today, and it was difficult to see properly on the tracks when you’re racing so fast, for so long. I eased off a little just to ensure I didn’t make any massive mistakes as they could be really costly. The goal now is to try and make a bit of a comeback tomorrow. I’ve lost a little time on the leaders over these first couple of days, and I need to claw some of that back. With a good start position for stage three, and a long stage ahead of us, I’m hoping I can chase down the guys in front.”

Luciano Benavides: “Stage two went well for me today. It was a really fast stage, and I am happy with my pace and my rhythm because I was able to maintain my focus for the whole stage. I made a couple of small navigation errors, and the result isn’t quite where I would want to be, but overall, I’m pleased with how things are going so far. On the very fastest sections today I struggled with the wind a bit so eased off just a little to make sure I didn’t make a mistake. I can feel my confidence coming back and so I will keep trying my best every day and hopefully move myself up the leaderboard.”

Daniel Sanders: “I felt good on the bike today. We made a few small changes last night and they really paid off today. Unfortunately, I made a few mistakes which cost me some time. As the stage was so fast it was then really hard to make any time up, but there’s still three days to go. I’m well placed in the standings, I feel good on the bike, and I completed today’s marathon stage with the bike and myself in good shape, so I’m ready for another go at it tomorrow.”

Stage 2 Provisional Classification

1. Skyler Howes (Husqvarna) 2:39:45

2. Matthias Walkner (KTM) 2:40:55 + 0:01:10

3. Andrew Short (Yamaha) 2:43:00 + 0:03:15

4. Ross Branch (Yamaha) 2:44:05 + 0:04:20

5. Adrien Van Beveren (Yamaha) 2:44:27 + 0:04:42

6. Sam Sunderland (KTM) 2:44:59 + 0:05:14

Overall Provisional Classification (after stage 2)

1. Matthias Walkner (KTM) 6:02:59

2. Skyler Howes (Husqvarna) 6:03:21 + 0:00:22

3. Ross Branch (Yamaha) 6:03:58 + 0:00:59

4. Adrien Van Beveren (Yamaha) 6:11:47 + 0:08:48

5. Andrew Short (Yamaha) 6:15:38 + 0:12:39

6. Sam Sunderland (KTM) 6:15:43 + 0:12:44