Dakar newcomer Matthias Walkner of Austria sealed victory in Stage Three of the Dakar Rally, an impressive result for the former MX3 World Champion. Walkner, a KTM-supported rider, is the first Austrian to ride in the Dakar since Heinz Kinigadner in the 1990s.
Unfortunately, the stage was clouded by tragedy. The Polish bike rider Michal Hernik (no. 82) was found dead on the selective section of the third stage of the rally between San Juan and Chilecito at kilometre 206.
The circumstances surrounding his death have yet to be determined, as the competitor did not show any external signs of an accident.
When the race management detected the loss of his Irritrack signal and was informed that he had not completed the special stage at 15:16, it decided to start a search for the rider at 15:23. An ambulance helicopter found the rider 300 meters off the route at 16:03. Unfortunately, the on-board doctor could only confirm the rider’s death.
At 39 years of age, Michal was taking part in the Dakar for the first time and he was in 84thposition in the general ranking. He had previously participated in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge in 2014 and the Morocco Rally in 2013, both of which he completed.
Walkner completed the stage in two hours 34.28, just 00.40 ahead of KTM Factory rider Marc Coma and 1.53 ahead of current overall leader Joan Barreda. During the day race officials decided to shorten the stage that was planned to take riders from San Juan to Chilecito – a total distance of 657 km, including 220 km of timed special. This was in response to Monday’s Stage Two having been judged by even seasoned professionals as ‘difficult’.
Fourth across the finish line was Australia’s desert racer Toby Price, like Walkner making his first appearance in the Dakar Rally as a KTM-supported rider. Price continues to be impressive and was only 2 minutes 45 behind Walkner. KTM’s other factory riders Ruben Faria, Jordi Viladoms and Sam Sunderland finished 7-9-11. The top 20 riders all finished within a 10-minute margin.
The stage, said to be one of the most scenic in this year’s rally, took riders northwards along the line of the Andes. They had to negotiate their way through red earth tracks and canyons and spent much of their time in extremely rocky riverbeds.
After Stage Three, Honda riders Joan Barreda of Spain and Portugal’s Paolo Goncalves continue to lead the standings. Walkner moves up to third, leading in five KTM riders – Coma, Faria, Price and Viladoms, who at seventh is currently 14.07 minutes off the winning pace.
Matthias Walkner: “I already had a good feeling when I got to the finish because I knew I had a good day. But at the end I was a bit tired and wasn’t concentrating so well and I made some small mistakes. It is an amazing feeling to win the stage and for sure I didn’t expect this. It will be difficult to open the piste tomorrow. Now for the rest of the rally I just want to enjoy every kilometer, to learn and to stay focused on the road book so I don’t make many mistakes.”