Kevin Benavides, the winner of the 2021 Dakar Rally, is switching teams. After years of success with Honda, culminating in his 2021 victory, he’d headed over to the KTM factory team.
The move will come as a surprise to many rally raid fans, as Benavides has seen a decent amount of success with Honda. The Argentinian rider joined Big Red’s Dakar team during the rally’s time in South America. Originally, he was with the Honda South America team, then moved up to the full factory squad after he’d proved himself. He earned five stage wins with Honda, and took second overall in the 2018 rally. Over the years, he’d proved a consistent performer, and a fan favourite during the race’s South American days.
Benavides also raced in the FIM Cross Country Rally series for Honda, taking second overall in the 2017 season and third in 2019. He also won other rallies outside that series, including Andalucia and Atacama.
But, after five solid years of success, Benavides is off to KTM. Earlier today, KTM announced Benavides was moving to its factory Dakar team, and would also race the FIM Cross Country Rally series aboard the orange bike.
Why the move? From KTM’s perspective, it makes sense to sign one of its toughest opposing riders. As for Benavides, he said
I have always been a fan of KTM bikes, of Red Bull, and of how the team is organized—I truly believe that it’s the best choice for me to further my racing and to be able to challenge for more Dakar wins and the World Championship title. I have always enjoyed taking on new challenges in my life and I’m really looking forward to getting to know the team, the bike, and pushing myself even harder … I hope to be able to continue my own training program—I like to spend as much time on the bikes as possible, including the rally bike but also motocross and enduro, too. Looking ahead to next year, the ultimate goal would be to win back-to-back Dakars. I have already been lucky enough to be a factory supported rider in enduro years ago, so to now be back on a KTM and in the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing rally team is a dream and a real honor. I’m really thankful for the opportunity and can’t wait to get racing!
Now, this means there are interesting choices ahead for both the KTM and Honda teams. Word on the street is, Honda was planning to drastically cut its Dakar budget. Is that way Benavides wanted out? Will Honda just keep a trimmed-down team, or will it add another new rider? Could this be Skyler Howes’ big chance? In some ways, signing Howes would be a genius move, as Honda’s Ricky Brabec and Howes could train and travel together, and who knows, maybe even do some SCORE racing closer to home, or the Sonora Rally, repping for Big Red around home.
As for KTM, well, its factory team was already looking crowded. There’s Toby Price, arguably still the top Man To Beat. There’s Sam Sunderland, whose riding is perfectly adapted to the Saudi terrain the Dakar currently navigates. There’s Matthias Walkner, not flashy but a steady performer. Any of those guys could win a stage, or the whole rally, and there’s newcomer Daniel Sanders, aka “Mini Mullet,” who looks to be a quick-rising talent. Not to mention all the Husqvarna factory riders, who’d probably love to move sideways to the KTM team …
So, is one of those riders dropping off KTM—maybe Price is moving to cars? Or is Benavides just going to create an even bigger KTM factory team? Stay tuned, the 2022 Dakar Rally could get even more exciting with off-season machinations already underway!