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The team behind the (Dakar) team or five short stories of love and passion – Part 1


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The team behind the (Dakar) team or five short stories of love and passion – Part 1

The Dakar Rally is a massive operation, therefore it requires more working hands and ingenious minds than any other cross-country rally of the season. This year, the team backing up the Red Bull KTM Factory Riders included 33 members, achieving a historical result under the command of new team leader, Jordi Viladoms. We talked to five of those who joined the orange family only for Dakar.

They came to Lima to take care of riders, team, trucks, motorhomes, and KTM customers. How did they join KTM´s Dakar operation, and what are their roles? How was it once upon a time in Africa, what has changed, what has remained exactly the same, and what’s love got to do with it?



Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Racing Team Dakar 2019 © Marcin Kin

August Linortner, truck driver
“I did my first Dakar in 1997. We had a satellite phone the size of luggage we would use only as a last resort. We were travelling without much information, yet that was not our main concern. The truck was too heavy, and it was the truck driver’s first Dakar,” he laughs, pointing at himself. “We were learning how to survive the Dakar as we were doing it. Several times in Mauritania, it took 24 hours from bivouac to bivouac. It was unreal! That place sure wasn’t gentle on our truck; it’s the most arid, unforgiving country you can imagine. We broke everything possible, finishing the African Dakars with completely destroyed trucks. When it came to big repairs, we mostly relied on miracles. Surprise, surprise – they do happen in Africa!”

Even though Africa was tough, his eyes light up: “Africa gave us all a feeling of complete freedom. Nothing was granted, nothing was easy, and communication was a real challenge. But people inside and outside the bivouacs were all incredibly friendly. Of course, the Dakar has changed a lot recently. Distances have shortened considerably, motorhomes are now loaded with fresh fruits, the coffee machine is always within reach and assistance always on time. On the other hand, the Dakar will never be easy. I still feel the sense of adventure, and working for such a team is a dream come true.”

Before he ventured offroad, the ex-road racer was working for Mike Leitner. Later on, he changed disciplines, yet his work remained more or less the same. “I am taking care of the motorsport fleet trucks, all together there are 15 trucks under my watch. Besides that, I am the handy man of the motorsport building. I solve practically everything,” says a life-long Dakar university student. “I left school at 15, I got my hands dirty and my passion for bikes brought me to the Dakar. This is the university I am still enrolled at, collecting the craziest memories of my life, like all students do.”


Red Bull KTM Team Truck Dakar 2019 © Marcin Kin

Tom Haider, personal assistant
“This is the third Dakar of my life,” says Tom, preparing the motorhome for Hiasi, nickname for Matthias, and Luciano, the two riders sharing the Dakar home for 10 days. “I’ve known Hiasi for a very long time. We met on the motocross track, where else? We love the same sport, but he is obviously from a different league. I started late, but still competed on national level. Well, occasionally I still put on my riding gear if I am not doing up some old car,” laughs the 34-year-old IT specialist from Salzburg.

His story of how he became a mechanic specialized for hard cases, is full of wisdom and therefore, worth sharing. “I was 19 and I´d just bought my first car. It was an old Audi Quattro, with some issues, of course. I took it to the workshop where they were supposed to repair it, but I wasn’t happy with the work done. And even less pleased with the huge amount of money they wanted from me! I was discussing it with the workshop owner, trying to negotiate and lower the price, because I didn’t want to pay for their mistake, when the owner had enough and said to me: ‘Ok, go, but if you don’t like our work, you will have to do it on your own.’ And I did it. Years later, I was thinking about what he said to me and realized how valuable that was. It gave me the power to think that nothing is too difficult for me, and that I can learn all by myself,” remembers Tom.

So, he did repair his car. He repaired other people’s cars, mostly old ones with complicated issues. He even built himself a racecar. And all that knowledge brought him all the way to rally sport. For his first race, he prepared during the flight. “I had 40, 50 pages of car instructions and the flight was long enough to study them,” laughs Tom, but admits it was no walk in the park; rally cars are super expensive and you need to be very precise.

In contrast to his job where he dealt with rally cars, he didn’t need to study much for the Dakar. Matthias needed somebody to help him, and Tom was perfect for the job. Still, to take care of a rider 24 hours a day: to wake him up, bring him breakfast, help him dress, assist him to get started, and then repeat everything in reverse order when he returns to the bivouac, is not his “only” job. Tom is also the on-duty handy man, responsible for all the motorhomes. “I am here for the whole team,” explains Tom. “Though my main priority is Matthias. I have a lot of work with him, because he knows very well what he wants, but that’s also a reason why working for him is easy.”


Matthias Walkner (AUT) Dakar 2019 © Marcin Kin

Miquel Pujol, responsible for spare parts
Miquel’s Dakar journey begins on the Lisboa-Dakar route in 2006. He was 23 when the invitation arrived, and caught him eager to explore the Dark Continent. He comes from the same village as the Dakar legend Marc Coma, so the path to the rally was a short one.

“Basically, Marc recruited me and introduced me to the rally team. At the time, Trunkenpolz was running the team, and 2006 was also the year when our team manager made his debut. That year, Andy Caldecott replaced the injured Jordi Duran, so I took care of his bike. We all know what happened to Andy on January 9, 2006. My first Dakar! I felt completely devastated. The next year, Jordi Viladoms had a big crash, and we again returned home with a bitter taste in our mouths. But that was Africa, it always took its toll. Fortunately, nowadays it happens less,” he says with relief, and adds: “But the most incredible thing is that the core of the team has stuck together all these years. Stefan is still here, as are Rolli, August, Miki and Jordi.”

After a break of several years, Miquel made his comeback to the team, and to the Dakar, which in 2009 had switched continents. A few years ago, he would make his own switch from mechanic to spare parts manager, now having approximately 1000 spare parts under his wing. Happy to be part of the KTM Dakar team, he explains: “I didn’t study to work as a mechanic, I am an industrial engineer, but when Marc offered me a job, I grabbed the opportunity to enter motorsports with both hands. The greatest power of KTM is the team spirit. We work like a family, you can feel it. Sure, in the past there was a big rivalry between the French and Spanish teams. Fights between Cyril and Marc were also difficult for the team. Now the air we breathe is lighter, even if the Dakar is always tough. It doesn’t matter how long it is or where we race, it’s still the most unpredictable race in the world.”

When the nights are extremely short, Miquel sleeps on the truck, under the stars. When the nights are a bit longer, he might put up the tent. Sometimes, during the night, he would also become nostalgic. Speaking of the joy of being part of the orange family, during the rally expeditions he misses his own. “Sure I want to be a good dad, but it’s not easy with this job. We are away a lot, and this is the major downside. My son is almost three years old and starts to feel my absence.” It’s not the best consolation, but to live your life with two families?


Tools & spare parts Dakar 2019 © Marcin Kin

Photos: Marcin Kin


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      A ‘dream’ in the sense that last year is firmly in the past and the sheer rate of trophies and achievement is something that still seems hazy now in terms of reality. KTM may have won the premier class 7 times in the last 9 seasons (and 8 from 9 in MX2) but the 2018 inter-team battles between Jeffrey Herlings and Tony Cairoli and Jorge Prado and Pauls Jonass not only saw the championship crowns passed onto athletes in the same team but witnessed the sight of one squad decimating two classes at the very highest level of a single sport. It was a very rare situation.
      Circumstances dictate that 2019 will not be a replica. Herlings is fighting to come back from a broken right foot and an injury that will eat into the season until the champion regains race speed and confidence. Thus, two Red Bull KTM riders claiming all but one Grand Prix as they did in 2018 will be a mammoth task to repeat. This is not to say that Herlings and Cairoli will not add to their tally this year. Cairoli can still sniff a history-making tenth world championship at the age of 33, and any spoils in 2019 will hike his current GP win haul of 85 closer to the record of 101. Herlings sits on 84 and is also eyeing the dash to that milestone.
      #84 and #222. 1 and 2, and the most prolific riders in Grand Prix history this decade: Red Bull KTM have the two best athletes in their stable but even then their sum of 19 wins (17 for Herlings, 2 for Cairoli) 33 podiums (13 times together) from 2018 is something special. To their credit KTM are not taking the triumphs for granted (check out VP of Offroad Robert Jonas’ words about 2018 on the KTM BLOG here) and have to keep modest about whatever the outcome in 2019 compared to their annus mirabilis last summer.
      Tony Cairoli (ITA) KTM 450 SX-F © B. Swijgers
      2) Can the Spaniard get any better?
      Oh yes. Jorge Prado may have continued KTM’s excellent lineage of young and exceptional riding talent ascending to the position of MX2 gold plate holder (think of Townley, Rattray, Musquin, Roczen, Herlings, Tixier, Jonass) and is arguably the most proficient starter seen in Grand Prix in recent memory, but he wasn’t the finished package in 2018. Prado gained ground on Jonass in the standings throughout the season but also matured into a formidable rider of few mistakes that became almost unbeatable in leading from the front. That journey will continue in 2019. Sometimes the youthful impetuosity (he turned 18 in January) was clear in race situations – the Grand Prix of Turkey – was an exhilarating ‘low point’ for the team with the clash between the Spaniard and Jonass on track losing the overall win and inflicting a right knee injury on the Latvian.
      2018 was just the second Grand Prix year for Jorge and saw a stronger and more physical teenager exerting his influence. In 2019 he will have yet more conditioning, experience and a different kind of pressure as ‘the hunted’ rather than ‘the hunter’ but such is his light and care-free (but deadly determined) demeanor that his status in the MXGP paddock is unlikely to be a deciding factor in his performances. Another winter of training with Tony Cairoli and his De Carli crew (plus an undefeated streak in the three round Italian Championship) means Prado will continue sprinting on the fast-track to more brilliance. Could the MXGP class already be knocking come October? If Prado defends the championship, then he’ll be obliged to jump into the premier division according to FIM rules.
      Jorge Prado (ESP) KTM 250 SX-F © B. Swijgers
      3) What about Tom?
      When eighteen-year-old Tom Vialle filled the saddle vacated by Pauls Jonass (the Latvian leaping into the MXGP class) there were a few eyebrows raised. The French youngster is the son of a former Grand Prix rider and had shone through moments of last year’s EMX250 European Championship – the increasingly competitive feeder system to MX2 – but did not boast the kind of record in the junior classes compared to his predecessors.
      Handed a test and chance to impress with the Red Bull KTM, Vialle convinced the expert opinion of former multi world champion, former Belgian MX of Nations Team Manager and KTM Motocross Manager Joël Smets sufficiently to earn one of the most sought after opportunities in the FIM World Championship. The Belgian liked Vialle’s style and character but acknowledged he has to make vast strides in order to place that works KTM 250 SX-F where it needs to be (particularly in the recent context of 2018).
      Unlike most of KTM’s previous MX2 stars Vialle has not been fed-through or groomed by a junior program and it is important to remember that not only is he a rookie in a factory setup but also in Grand Prix. Smets and the team will be looking for signs of progress in 2019 with Vialle already showing the technique and desire needed to make the cut.
      Aside from this interesting new story keep an eye on two more KTM prospects in the EMX European championship in the forms of Austrian Rene Hofer (racing a KTM 250 SX-F for the first time) and Liam Everts on the KTM 125 SX.
      Tom Vialle (FRA) KTM 250 SX-F © R. Archer
      Photos: B. Swijgers | R. Archer