Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing’s Pablo Quintanilla and Luciano Benavides will today take to the start of the 2021 Dakar Rally. The South American duo have completed their Shakedown tests and all administrative checks and are set to take on the opening Prologue before lining up for the start of stage one on Sunday, January 3.
Securing his best Dakar result in 2020 with an excellent runner-up finish, Pablo Quintanilla spent much of the remaining year recovering from the further surgeries carried out on the ankle he injured at the 2019 event. Unable to compete in the one competitive outing the team attended, the Chilean ace still managed to clock up many kilometres at home and comes into the 2021 Dakar fit and eager to get back to racing. With several improvements being made to the latest edition of his FR 450 Rally, Quintanilla is confident of fighting for another podium finish at this year’s event.
Quintanilla’s teammate Luciano Benavides also enjoyed his best Dakar result in 2020, claiming a commendable sixth position in only his third appearance in the race. Joining the Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing team soon after the event, the young Argentinian put in as much time on the bike as possible over the course of the year, despite the pandemic-induced restrictions. Benavides’ first competitive outing for the team was unfortunately cut short when he crashed out of the Andalucia Rally in October. Soon back to full fitness however, Luciano was able to complete several weeks of valuable testing towards the end of the year and is now fully motivated for a strong result in Saudi Arabia.
Marking the 43rd edition of the world’s most challenging off-road rally, the 2021 Dakar will once again be held in the Middle East. Covering a total of 7,646km, the race will see competitors face 12 tough stages of mixed terrain ranging from fast gravel tracks to the soft undulating sand dunes of the country’s ‘Empty Quarter’ desert. With the specials tailored more towards accurate navigation rather than out-and-out speed for 2021, the event looks set to be more mentally taxing than ever. Opening with a short 11-kilometre Prologue on January 2, followed by 12 full days of racing, the event finishes back in Jeddah on January 15, with riders having raced 4,767km against the clock.
Pablo Quintanilla: “Since Dakar last year I had further surgery on the ankle that I broke in 2019 so I spent a lot of last year recovering, but now I am back to 100% and excited for the race to start. Because of my recovery I did little in the way of testing but was able to spend a lot of time with the team towards the end of the year, which was great. Dakar demands a real team effort, and everyone has been working really hard and they’ve built a great bike for me. There are some small changes with the rear shock and the fuel tank, and these have improved the bike, so everything is feeling great at the moment. The new route for this year looks exciting, and along with the new safety regulations I hope we can have a successful rally. My aim is to be consistent on every stage without making too many mistakes, finish the race healthy, and earn a strong result for myself and the team.”
Luciano Benavides: “I’m really looking forward to racing the Dakar again, the 2021 edition will be my fourth time racing it and you never stop learning new things, but I have a lot of confidence for this one. I’m still really new to the team, but there is a great atmosphere and I feel like we have a lot of potential this year. My goal is to improve on my sixth-place finish from last year and, realistically, I’m aiming for a place on the podium. It’s a long race and my strategy will be to finish each day in the top five, but on days where I feel more confident, I will try and push for stage wins. The course is all-new and more technical with slower speeds, which suits how I ride, so I’m really looking forward to getting started now. I’m super-happy with how my bike felt in the Shakedown, and physically I’m the best prepared that I’ve ever been.”
Pela Renet – Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing Rally Team Manager: “It feels good to be racing at Dakar again, the terrain here will be more familiar this time around. Last year we had to learn everything about the area, whereas now we know what to expect. Because of the pandemic both Pablo and Luciano had to stay home for most of 2020. Recently though, we have been able to get the whole team together in preparation for 2021, which has been great. The riders have been mainly focussing on their roadbook skills and with the roadbooks being handed to each rider shortly before each stage at the Dakar, we have done the same during testing. We have prepared some great bikes for the riders, so it’s now over to them to continue with their own progression and reach their personal goals. The Shakedown went well – the bikes are performing great and Pablo and Luciano are feeling good physically. It’s been a long time coming, but finally we’re all set to go racing again.”