Toby Price travelled to Argentina on Monday confident he could shake off some mixed recent results and challenge for an historic Dakar Rally victory at just his second attempt.
And the strategy is simple for the Aberglasslyn-based off-road star – just survive the first week, then go from there.
From January 2, Price will carry the No.3 badge and ride with the world’s best motorcycle rally line-up, the Red Bull KTM Factory team, when he tries to become the first Australian to win the two-week, 9000km test in Argentina and Bolivia.
It’s a far cry from this year, when he finished third at the Dakar on debut with a stock-standard KTM bike and just one rally under his belt – an eighth in Morocco three months earlier.
A stage win and podium finish was the equal best by an Australian rider at Dakar, and the feat announced Price to the world as a genuine star of the future. That was confirmed when the top KTM team, who have won Dakar’s bike category every year since 2001, snapped up Price after the retirement of five-time and defending champion Marc Coma.
However, it hasn’t all been smooth riding since for the 28-year-old.
Although powering to fifth Australian Off-Road Championship and Hattah Desert Race wins, as well as a fourth Finke Desert title – this time with a broken foot, Price had battles in rally racing.
In September at the Atacama Rally in Chile, Price had troubles with his road book, lost his bearings and incurred 22 speed zone penalties in one stage to end his chances. He recovered to finish 11th. In October at the Morocco Rally, Price won a stage but failed to finish the race because of illness.
Despite the setbacks on the world rally championship, Price said his confidence had not been dented and “everything now is on the right track”.
“The last few rounds have been a little bit up and down with results and being sick,” Price said.
“There’s been a few issues with the bike, but not major problems, like my road book snapping out, but it’s just racing. It’s hard on your body and it’s hard on your equipment. Nothing is unbreakable. With motorsport, nothing is guaranteed.
“It’s been good though. We’re on the right track with training and everything. We spent two weeks in Spain and Morocco fitting in some navigation training and testing the bike, and everything feels really good.”
Although more experienced and now with the full support of KTM, Price said he would not necessarily be more aggressive this time at Dakar. He said the key was staying mistake-free.
“You can’t really plan a strategy,” Price said.
“I’ve got a rough idea on what I want to do, but it’s two weeks of racing. That’s the hardest bit.
“It’s not won the first week. Half the field will maybe drop out by then because of injury or bike problems, so you’ve just got to play that first week really smart.
“Last year, Marc Coma won only one stage, like me, and ended up winning, so that proves you don’t have to win every single stage.
"A mistake, though, might cost you 45 minutes, and that’s a kick in the stomach that's hard to come back from.”