The last big desert race of 2021 is done, with Matthias Walkner winning the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge for KTM’s factory rally raid squad.
It’s been a big year for Walkner, although it started off rough. He only managed a ninth overall finish at the 2021 Dakar Rally, after his clutch self-destructed on Stage 2, which basically nuked his chances at a podium. Since then, Walkner finished second at Rally Kazakhstan, and won this year’s Silk Way Rally, despite a mid-race scramble by the organization to re-route the event after COVID-19 ruled out the original race plan. Then, he finished second at Morocco, which was enough to clinch the FIM Cross Country Rallies championship. The win at Abu Dhabi was just a final, finishing touch on a very strong season of racing.
Second overall went to Yamaha’s Adrien Van Beveren, who’s been running a solid season himself. His Yamaha 450 has mostly held together, and he’s been in contention for wins through much of the season. Could “Bad Luck” Beveren be poised for a strong Dakar showing in a few weeks? Uh, maybe. And maybe not. The FIM’s rallies are all shorter affairs, under a week long, and Yamaha’s machines have a pretty sketchy history of inconvenient breakdowns through the long-term grind of the last few Dakars … and when they don’t break down, the riders themselves seem to just not have the winning formula that the competition has.
Third place at Abu Dhabi went to Joaquim Rodrigues, riding for Hero. The moto-press doesn’t spill much ink over Rodrigues, or Hero, but both the rider and the team are picking up steam. Rodrigues is putting down solid results year after year, and while it seems unlikely he’d ever win Dakar, his work at Hero is strengthening that team. Don’t be surprised if Hero eventually becomes one of the powerhouse factory organizations, duking it out with Honda and KTM for podiums and even stage wins.