Interview of the Month: Podium star Toby Price talks about his Dakar debut

KTM-ace Toby Price is an Australian enduro and offroad racer, whom has achieved numerous national titles, has won the Finke Desert Race four times, and came second in the 2012 Baja 1000, which have all made him a national racing hero. After discussing his desire to race Dakar over the last few years with KTM, Price entered just one rally in Morocco before taking on one of the most notorious races in the world with the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing team.

Toby Price was aware as he lined up in Buenos Aires on January 4 2015 that, while he knew his riding speed could match any of the front-runners, his navigation and skill to pace such a long and difficult race would be a tough challenge. It was one he certainly reveled in, as the Dakar debutant took an outstanding podium third at this year’s rally, and the KTM BLOG caught up with him right after the finish to tell us his story of the race.

Tell us how it feels to be on the podium at your first Dakar?
“To podium at my first Dakar is unbelievable. I am shocked. I didn’t expect to be on the podium straight away. I wanted to be top 20, and I was definitely hoping to be top 10. After the halfway mark things were going well, we were in the top 10, and so we just put our head down to keep charging for a good result.”

Did you have a game plan for the race?
“Our game plan was to get to the halfway point and the rest day, then to see where we were sitting. From there we didn’t really have a big game plan, but pretty much between me and Alex (Doringer) we just wanted to make sure I got back every day at the end of each stage. We also knew it was important to preserve the bike, myself and see what the end of the week brought, which ended up being great result.”

What were the highlights of the race?
“One of the highlights was definitely winning a stage, as nobody from home has done that since Andy Caldecott in 2006, so it was pretty cool to get that. It was also great to see Marc Coma win his fifth Dakar title. That’s a pretty big highlight and it was KTM’s 14th Dakar victory, which is insane. It’s a great result not only for Marc, but for KTM as well.”

How tough is the Dakar rally in comparison to other races you’ve competed in?
“Coming into the Dakar I didn’t really know what to expect. I’ve done the Six Days Enduro in the past, but you can’t really compare that to a Dakar race. The distance you cover in Dakar and the long hours you do is the tough part. It’s physically draining and mentally draining, so for Marc to win five titles is a real credit to him, especially now I’ve been there and done it. They’ve never been handed to him easily that’s for sure.”

The marathon stages are certainly tough on the riders. How did you find them?
“They all went really well. The first marathon stage was cutting it really fine, as we had that saltpan day. The bike held up really well, and we got it to the finish line on day two of the marathon day when the boys fixed everything up. It’s a credit to these machines, as it’s a long race, and for them to survive like that they are definitely getting through some punishment. It’s cool that KTM have built such a great bike straight away.”

What were the toughest parts of the race for you?
“The toughest parts were definitely the marathon days. You had to take it pretty easy and make sure the bike got there. And then the liaison sections were tough. When it’s minus eleven and you’re freezing on the bike trying to do 110km/h it’s really hard. The problem is the faster you go the colder you get, and the slower you go the longer you’re in the cold weather. Day two was tough too, as it was 42 or 43 degrees. I realised I didn’t have the proper attire for Dakar, and at that temperature I felt like I was on fire. We definitely know where there are things I can fix for 2016, and I hope to be back.”

A lot of people suffered on the salt flats in the wet. What was your take on it?
“My view of it was that it was a pretty silly idea. When we got to the stage we had to cross a riverbed there, which was pretty deep. Once we saw that we knew we were in for something pretty interesting. As most people know salt water doesn’t really mix with anything in a vehicle, whether it’s a car or a bike, and a lot of people suffered from that day. It’s a bit unfortunate. A lot of people travelled worldwide for this event, and for something that could have been called off and maybe done next year when conditions are better with no rain, it was disappointing. But hey it was their call and we went through with it, and luckily we made it to the finish line.”

A podium finish is outstanding, but personally what makes it so special?
“Being on the podium for the first time and getting a stage win is a pretty special feeling. Also being here with the KTM team is special, as these guys are like family now. They’ve taken me under their wing and really helped a lot. Roberto really worked hard on my bike and it’s thanks to all of them that I made it to the end of the race.”

You’ve been through two weeks of torture, how do you feel physically?
“I don’t actually feel too bad. I’m surprised. I’m tired from a lack of sleep more than anything, as you come back at the end of the day, try to eat, get into the road books and then there’s a briefing and you’re trying to have a team meeting to sort out what the next day is going to bring. You don’t get to bed until 10.30pm at night and some days you’re up at 2.30am, have breakfast and get ready to go riding at 3.30am or 4am in the morning. Overall the body isn’t too bad, and we know we can work on a few more things to come back stronger next year.”

Competitors such as Barreda and Goncalves have continued to push for the win, what’s your view on the competition?
“The Honda guys definitely bring a good set-up. They aren’t here with a half arsed team and they’re coming to win Dakar from KTM. Barreda and those guys ride fast and navigate well. Goncalves had a tough event, he’s so mentally strong and he got to the finish line. It’s not been an easy road for them and I’m sure next year they will be hard to beat, but with Marc, Jordi, Ruben and Sam we’ve got a strong team and we’re sure we can keep at it with them and give it our best.”

The Dakar is always tough. We saw Sam and Jordi exit the rally early; did this affect your strategy at all?
“It didn’t affect me in any way, but it was a shame to see. Sam has worked his backside off in the last twelve months to come here and do well. He started off well and won the stage on day one, but on day two just the smallest error of being 100 metres out on a kilometer reading or a couple of degrees on a cap heading and you can end up being completely in the wrong spot. Unfortunately he went on an adventure on his own for a few hours and I think from that day on it had drained him a lot, because it was around 42 degrees, he ran out of water and was dehydrated. It was a tough event for him. For Jordi it was a shame to see on the saltpan day it brought that bike to a stop. Some people were lucky to get through, but he didn’t. He’ll be back again and stronger while running at the front again for sure.”

Tell us about the work behind the scenes, as that’s a huge part of the race?
“The work behind the scenes is really insane. The guys work pretty much non-stop on nearly no sleep, probably less than what we get. We would come in at the end of the day and pass the bike off to them, then sometimes they nearly strip the bike back down to the frame and go through everything to make sure the bike is in tip top shape and is going to get to the finish line. It’s a big team effort. A lot of people talk about the rider and the result for the rider, but I’ve always looked at it that if there wasn’t a team behind all of the riders we wouldn’t be doing what we’re doing. I can’t thank them enough and I’m sure all the guys that ride agree that without all their great work it wouldn’t be possible.”

Your bike was a customer rally bike. How was it for the race?
“The bike was great. I started out basically with a bike that was straight out of the box – the same bike any member of the public can buy. We showed straight away that we could run up near the front with an 11th and then a fifth place, so the bike out of the box is amazing. Anyone that’s looking to get into the rally sport is definitely taking the right step by looking at going the KTM way.”

KTM has celebrated so much success at the Dakar rally. How does it feel to be part of that?
“To win 14 Dakar races is amazing. It’s pretty much unheard of and it just shows how everyone in the team here brings their A game. When the time is right everyone has a joke and some fun, but when it comes to business everyone puts their heads down and works hard. You definitely don’t win 14 Dakar races without bringing your A game to the event. To be part of this team, learning from these guys and learning from the best means I’m definitely in good hands and excited for the future and what rally sport can bring me.”

We’re guessing you’re ready for a good sleep and some food. What’s your plan from now?
“I’m definitely keen to stay away from the pasta! I’m looking forward to a good bit of steak and some chicken! From here I’m flying back to Australia now to start the season back home and be full gas and good to go. At the finish line it was good to enjoy a nice warm shower and a nice comfortable bed with some awesome food. It’s been great.”

After 14 days and 13 stages Toby brought his KTM 450 RALLY Replica home in third position with a stage win to his name behind Paulo Goncalves (2nd) and Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s Marc Coma, who took his fifth Dakar win. After travelling approximately 9,000 kilometres through Argentina, Bolivia, and Chile, Toby’s success at his Dakar debut is incredible, especially as he is new to road-book-style navigation. The Dakar is one of the most grueling and challenging races in the world in which only 79 of the 168 competitors completed the race in 2015.

Price dedicated his podium to the late Kurt Caselli, who passed away in 2013, while explaining that Kurt had convinced him to race Dakar and he felt he’d kept an eye on him during the race.