Matthias Walkner became the first Austrian rider to take part in the Dakar rally since the legendary Heinz Kinigadner. “It’s a dream come true”, said the man from Salzburg. “I am not going to waste this great chance”.
It was Kinigadner himself who officially recruited his compatriot to the KTM works team. Small wonder given that the 1984 and '85 MotoX world champion is also Walkner's mentor, teaching him all the secrets that he needs to know in order to be competitive in the Dakar Rally.
So what are the essential facts about Matthias Walkner? He grew up wanting to be a motorcycle rider. In 2002, at 16 years of age, he began to work in a motorcycle shop, developing his mechanical skills and understanding. In 2004 he became part of the KTM family, working initially as a test rider and finally winning the MX3 world title.
Walkner’s career got a boost when he crossed paths with Heinz Kinigadner who steered him toward hard enduro and now into rally raids “My world title is not going to be of much use to me from now on," said the KTM rider. “I will have to start from scratch; right now my main objective is to reach Buenos Aires in one piece”.
In 2015, his mission at his first Dakar was to support defending champion Marc Coma and learn as much as possible from the top riders. Coma had no doubts, “Matthias is very fast and has a bright future ahead of him; but, just like everybody else, he must be cautious. He knows he will suffer a lot during his first Dakar”. Indeed his performance was impressive, winning the third stage before having to retire due to illness. It didn't stop him though, by October he was FIM World Cross-Country Rallies Champion!
On his return to the Dakar in 2016, Walkner's race was again cut short, despite him putting in a number of impressive performances and running in third place at the end of Stage 6. An accident on Stage 7 forced him to retire from the race through injury.
He returned in 2017 with renewed determination and managed to steer clear of the illness and injury that had curtailed his previous attempts. Walkner not only finished the race, but did so in some style, coming home in second place overall behind his British team-mate, Sam Sunderland, to make it a Red Bull KTM Factory Racing 1–2.
"Arriving on the podium is an amazing feeling," commented an elated Walkner post race. "It's a dream come true after a very, very rough year. I had a bad injury and it took me almost half a year to get back on the bike."Read more