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Matthias Walkner: Racing for the orange family

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KTM rally competitor Matthias Walkner gives an insight into being part of the KTM race effort. Read the full interview at blog.ktm.com…

Living within an hour’s drive of KTM’s headquarters, Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Racing Team’s Matthias Walkner is Austria’s next big thing in international rally competition. A member of the KTM family for more than a decade, the 30-year-old rider from Salzburg enters his third Dakar Rally knowing he has what it takes to battle for the top.

Proudly following in the footsteps of his mentor and seven-time Dakar competitor Heinz Kinigadner, Walkner took the rally world by surprise winning the 2015 FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship during his debut season of international rally competition. With his participation at the 2016 Dakar Rally ending dramatically while he was third overall, the Austrian enters the 2017 event looking to challenge for the podium.

We caught up with Matthias moments before the KTM 450 RALLY mounted rider packed his bags for the trip to Paraguay …

Matthias, do you feel you’re 100% ready to battle for top honors at the 2017 Dakar?
“I feel stronger and more mature than ever and I feel I’m ready to show what I’m capable of. I’ve worked hard to return to full fitness after my injury at the 2016 Dakar. The effects of the injury were tough on my body and I might never recover 100% of the movement in my knee, but that’s just something I have to get used to. I want to do well at the 2017 Dakar and I’m happy I now have the experience to make it happen. I’ll keep working hard until the very last moment so that I’m fully prepared to take on this amazing challenge.”

With Dakar getting increased global attention, how important is it for an Austrian rider to do well on a bike that’s made in Austria?
“KTM riders have been winning races and championships across the globe, but I think in my case the fact I come from Austria makes it a bit more special. Working for KTM as a test rider since 2004, I’m a part to this company in more than one way. I’ve lived some of the best moments of my racing career with KTM and I feel I am a part of the orange family. I have good friends within the company’sR&D department. Red Bull is also an Austrian company and they’re fully backing our effort. Both Red Bull’s and KTM’s headquarters are almost an hour’s drive from my home in Austria. In my case, the fact that Heinz Kinigadner has been my mentor in rally racing is super important. Heinz is a legend in Austria and all-over the world. It’s so cool having these people around me.”

Are you satisfied with the progress you’ve made following the injury?
“After breaking my femur last January I stayed away from my bike for almost 30 weeks. My first race for 2016 was the Atacama Rally in August. It was a tough event but I managed to get sixth overall in my first race after more than six months away from a bike. Then I came back at the Morocco Rally and showed I could go head to head with all the top rally guys. Along with winning one stage in Morocco, I managed to make some big improvements on the bike and in my riding. Since then I’ve been feeling great on my 450 RALLY and I can’t wait for the Dakar to begin.”

Matthias Walkner (AUT) KTM 450 RALLY OiLibya Rally (MAR) 2016

Matthias Walkner (AUT) KTM 450 RALLY OiLibya Rally (MAR) 2016

Coming back on top after your injury at last year’s Dakar must have been hard …
“Finding myself on a hospital bed while being third in the Dakar and then having to spend six months away from the bike wasn’t fun and I’d prefer it never happened. Taking the positives out of it, one thing I’ve learned is that I should always remain 100% focused. The way the crash took place kind of made me realize a few things. It was an early morning stage and we had the sun hitting our eyes. It was really hard to see what was in front, so I wasn’t even going fast. 15 kilometers in the day’s special stage I saw a small shadow that ended up being a big hole. Thinking about it now, there were so many things going on inside my mind before the crash. After that I learned I should only focus on what’s important and leave everything else behind. I also learned that despite the Dakar being a two-week-long event, things can change quite fast.”

As the 2015 Cross-Country Rallies World Champion, have you ever felt extra pressure to deliver the results expected during the Dakar Rally?
“No, for me it was exactly the opposite. Winning the world championship in my very first season in rally racing has been a great achievement, I believe. From what I know I was the first rider to make it happen. It showed I have the potential to battle for the top in rally racing and it reduced a great amount of pressure. That’s how I approached the 2016 Dakar and that’s also my mentality for the upcoming event. More than feeling any extra pressure I just want to do my job as best as I can.”

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