Interview of the month: Toby Price – Becoming the man to beat

The Dakar trophy has been on tour since it was handed over to this year’s winner, Red Bull KTM Rally factory rider Toby Price. In what is unbelievably only his sixth Rally to date, the 28-year-old Aussie took the prestigious Dakar crown and has recently returned to Australia to begin the next phase in his program. We caught up with Toby during his journey up to Queensland to see if the Dakar glory has sunk in!

“It’s been a whirlwind of a trip. After the Dakar I went to Anaheim 2 to watch the Supercross in America, and then after five days I came home to Australia for a few days to see some sponsors and catch up with them. Then I went to Austria to see everyone at the KTM factory and Red Bull and now I’m back home. We had a party for some of the sponsors that help get me to the races, and now I’m heading over to the Gold Coast to get back into my training and start riding, as we need to get going again.”

Toby Price (AUS) Dakar 2016

Toby Price (AUS) Dakar 2016

As a multi-time Australian Enduro champion, Toby’s rise to Dakar glory has been incredibly quick, as perhaps predicted by the late Kurt Caselli. The KTM racer competed as a supported rider last year and took a surprise podium finish on his debut, but this year he beat much more experienced competitors to be the first rider in the new era to take the crown, following on from 10 years of domination by former KTM racers Marc Coma and Cyril Despres. Toby is a real record breaker, as he´s the first person ever to win Dakar on a second attempt, first Australian to ever win any class of the Dakar Rally, and he did so with five stage wins and a 40 minute overall lead at the chequered flag.

“It’s been a very quick turnaround. Kurt Caselli told Alex (Doringer, Red Bull KTM Rally Team Manager) and KTM they should give me a go, and that was all happening around 2013. I never thought my option or chance to race Dakar would come, as it’s just so expensive to do and hard to get on board with. Alex said in 2014 he wanted to give me a go, and we got a plan together to do Dakar in 2015, then managed to get on the podium in my rookie year.”

“Then 12 months later I’ve won the race. It’s escalated really quickly. I’m still the same person, but it’s definitely changed my life. It’s a big race; everyone knows the Dakar, as it’s one of the biggest in the world on the motorsport calendar. To have one of those trophies with my name on it and to be the first Australian to do it is a good thing too. But now the hard work has just got 10 times harder.”

Stefan Svitko (SVK), Toby Price (AUS) & Pablo Quintanilla (CHI) Dakar 2016

Stefan Svitko (SVK), Toby Price (AUS) & Pablo Quintanilla (CHI) Dakar 2016

As a young gun Toby explained that it wasn’t really a long-term goal to Rally race, and he’s only been following the Dakar since fellow Aussie riders took part. His style is more to keep the throttle wide open for as long as possible rather than the dynamic riding of Dakar, but it’s sure he underestimated his own talent and the ability to achieve what he’s done in the last two years.

“I’ve followed Dakar since 2010 when my now team boss in Australia Ben Grabham went over to compete and also some other local guys such as Jake and Todd Smith and Matt Fish did it. I’ve always supported them going through Dakar but never thought I’d end up doing it myself.”

“In 2012 Kurt mentioned that he would go down that path and he sort of said I should look at it. I still didn’t think I’d make a great Rally rider, as there’s a lot of elements to these races. I’m the kind of guy who likes to get on a bike and be in top gear wide open, but you just can’t do that in Rally racing. You need to be a smart, switched on person, although for me I don’t think I’m the sharpest tool in the shed, but we seem to have been able to work it out.”

Navigation is key to Rally racing and can often take years to master, but Toby has picked it up incredibly quickly. Most of his previous racing did not involve road book navigation, but something has certainly clicked.

“Sure I’m trying to put my finger on how I’ve picked this up so quickly. 2016 will be my first full season of Rally racing, and the Dakar I’ve just done is literally the sixth Rally I’ve done in total! When you look at that, sure it’s difficult to figure out how it’s gone so good. I’m pretty sure I’ve got some good friends in the Rally racing scene, but I’m also pretty sure there are some that are hating on me at the moment too! Some of them have done it a long time and haven’t made the podium, but it’s worked out good for me in the last two years and we’ve won the biggest race. Maybe they don’t like this new Aussie guy! But I can’t be clear on how or why it’s happened.”

Toby Price (AUS) Dakar 2016

Toby Price (AUS) Dakar 2016

We’ve heard it many times that the Dakar is the toughest race in the world, but the accomplishment of just completing the event is worth it. Although it´s easy for someone who has never been to the Dakar to wonder, just how tough is it really? And why would you want to do it? Two weeks of intensive racing around South America on a KTM 450 RALLY bike on next to no sleep has taken its toll on Toby, but he definitely reckons the feeling on reaching the finish as a winner or not is totally worth it.

“With all the hard work, sweat, blood and tears we put into this going to the Dakar it’s basically reliving and going through all of that again in the two weeks. But yeah, look, it’s so hard to put into words how so damn tough this race is. If you haven’t been there to experience it, it’s not easy to understand. You could easily write five books about it and still not cover how hard this race can be. It throws every element at you, and the body just doesn’t know what’s going on,” explains Price.

“The body goes into a shut down mode after the race; I’ve done Six Days Enduros, the Finke Desert Race, but my body has never felt this bad ever in my life. It’s so tough on the bike, so tough on the support crew. I’m lucky to have the best guys in my corner, but without those guys it would be 10 times harder, the Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Racing Team do everything they can to give me the best possible and it’s still really tough.”

It makes you wonder how the privateers that sleep in tents and some of which have no assistance crew actually survive the 9,000km plus race.

Toby Price (AUS) KTM 450 RALLY Dakar 2016

Toby Price (AUS) KTM 450 RALLY Dakar 2016

“For me I just want to reach the finish line. It’s two weeks of self-inflicted torture, and it’s insane what you do, how much sleep you run on, you don’t eat much during the day, just power bars, and the body doesn’t like it, as you need to keep putting good fuel in to keep going. It’s two weeks of the best adventure of your life, but the most painful and most self-inflicted torture you could ever put on yourself.”

“It’s two weeks of the best adventure of your life, but the most painful and most self-inflicted torture you could ever put on yourself.”

Since completing the Rally Toby’s twitter feed has shown him taking the beautiful trophy a number of places, riding his factory rally bike into a television studio for national Australian television, trips all over the place, plus many, many interview requests from around the world. But it’s back to work for the Dakar star. This year Toby will make the switch to full time Rally racing in the Cross-Country Rallies World Championship with the Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Racing Team. He knows defending the Dakar crown will not be easy and this new chapter in his career is certainly exciting, but one thing that’s very clear is that those motorsport fans who didn’t know Toby Price before January 2016, have probably heard about him now.

“I’ve been with KTM since 2010, I don’t like chopping and changing too much and I like to be loyal to a brand. KTM has now had 15 wins in a row at Dakar, which just shows that we have good equipment, good people on our side, and for sure I’m really happy to be part of that family and involved with the team. For this year we’ve got the sixth Cross-Country Rallies world championship title and then Dakar, so my EnduroCross racing is going to come to a stop. We’ve got to concentrate on this now as we’ve made the hard work a lot harder and we need to put full focus into this.”

Photos: KTM