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Dakar Rally winner Matthias Walkner: “I actually wanted to be a skier”

Matthias Walkner has achieved something that no Austrian motorcyclist before him ever could – a win at the Dakar Rally. As a proud sponsor, OMV had the opportunity to talk to him about his career.

Matthias Walkner discovered his love of motorsports early on: “I actually wanted to be a championship skier, but then when I got my first motorbike at 14 and chalked up my first successes, I had to consider a change of plan”, explains Matthias. 

© Philipp CARL Riedl / Red Bull Content Pool
I actually wanted to be a championship skier, but then when I got my first motorbike at 14 and chalked up my first successes, I had to consider a change of plan,

Matthias Walkner, motocross driver and winner of Dakar Rally

In 2012 Matthias Walkner became the first Austrian world champion in the MX3 class; in 2013 he came second in the world championships. Two years later, he switched to rally racing after being inspired by motocross legend Heinz Kinigadner. “And it took off straight away once I won the Hellas Rally in Greece on my first attempt. That’s when I decided to focus completely on rally sports”. Matthias Walkner went on to win the Rally Raid world championship with KTM as early as 2015.

The Dakar Rally adventure

© Flavien Duhamel/Red Bull Content Pool

It should therefore come as no surprise that Matthias Walkner’s next goal was to conquer the so-called toughest race in the world, the Dakar Rally However, Matthias had to bow out early at his first two attempts at the Dakar Rally: “I was at the start line in 2015 in Buenos Aires but unfortunately I got food poisoning and had to withdraw early.

In 2016 I had a relatively seriously fall at Stage 7 and broke my thigh bone”. At his comeback in 2017, Matthias Walkner then took second place in the prestigious race.

Rising to the top

The former high point of his career came just two years ago: In January 2018 Matthias Walkner became the first Austrian to win the Dakar Rally in the motorbike category following 8,276 rally kilometers through Peru, Bolivia and Argentina. “Before the final stage, I had a comfortable lead and was even getting the first messages of congratulation on social media. I tried to block this out, as something can always go wrong right at the finish line. The fact that I actually managed it in the end was simply incredible”, grins Matthias.

Accident and comeback 2019

Things were just as exciting at the rally in 2019, when Matthias Walkner took second place on the podium despite fracturing his ankle. “At the fourth stage I misjudged a dune and slammed into the opposite slope”. This resulted in the bone injury and subsequent operation and physiotherapy. It also meant staying off his bike for the majority of the year. In fall 2019 he started again in his first race: “The Atacama Rally in Chile went really well and I finished in seventh place. Taking seventh at the Morocco Rally was also excellent – I’m completely satisfied with this”, says Matthias Walkner.

Walkner still top favorite

© Flavien Duhamel/Red Bull Content Pool

Despite the injury-related break, Matthias Walkner will also start at the 2020 Dakar Rally and is one of the absolute favorites to win the motorcycle class: “There’s a lot of work ahead but physically I’m in great shape and I’m getting my self-confidence back with every kilometer raced”, Matthias says, looking forward to the Dakar Rally.

We are naturally interested in the fuel that is used to power the vehicles at the Dakar Rally: “Unfortunately we don’t use OMV MaxxMotion. I would definitely have a starting advantage with this performance fuel, but the Dakar Rally regulators specify that we are only allowed to fill up our motorcycles with gasoline from local filling stations”, says Matthias.

After three decades in Africa and eleven events in South America, Saudi Arabia will host the race for the first time in 2020. There will be multiple challenges for the drivers on around 5,000 kilometers from the Red Sea to the Arabian Gulf. The start will take place on January 5, 2020, in Jeddah. Naturally, we wish Matthias Walkner every success for this project and hope he manages to make history once again in 2020! 

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