The KTM Factory Racing rally team will welcome a high-profile “rookie” during the coming weeks with MotoGP star and Grand Prix winner Danilo Petrucci set to swap his KTM RC16 for a KTM 450 RALLY in an attempt to take on the famous and notoriously difficult Dakar Rally in January.
The speed is still high, the adrenaline still pumping — even protection like airbags remain in place — but the 31-year-old Italian will be exchanging a visor for goggles and knee sliders for knee braces when he converts to a rally bike in Tech3 KTM Factory Racing colors for 2022.
Petrucci, who has accumulated 10 podium finishes and two wins in his 10 seasons on the MotoGP grid, will fulfil a lifetime dream with the transition into the next stage of his elite racing career after the season-closing Gran Premio Motul de la Comunitat Valenciana. “Petrux” is a skilled off-road rider in enduro and motocross but knows the discipline and demands of rally will be a big challenge.
Learning from some of the most successful racers in the sport and experts from the KTM squad that have previously won an outstanding 18 successive Dakar victories, Danilo has begun his rally preparation as he embarks on the challenge of a switch from MotoGP to the Dakar. Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s 2018 Dakar winner and recently crowned FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Champion Matthias Walkner, two-time Dakar champion Toby Price and reigning Dakar champion Kevin Benavides will be on-hand in the KTM stable to help the MotoGP star make his transition to the sport.
Danilo has had a taste of desert conditions aboard his KTM 450 RALLY and the incredibly challenging navigation required for rally racing at a recent test under the watchful eye of KTM’s Rally Sport Manager, Jordi Viladoms, a former successful Dakar competitor. Following the MotoGP season, Danilo’s attention will be fully focused on furthering his riding and navigational education ahead of his first attempt at the 14-day and approximately 8,000-kilometer event, which begins on Jan. 1.
The 2022 edition of the competition will take place in the Middle East for the third year in a row and will allow Petrucci to be thrown into the depths of Dakar to learn and develop with an eye on 2022 FIM competition and a potential future in the sport.
Petrucci said, “For me it is really a dream come true to race the Dakar. It’s an event I’ve always wanted to do since I was a child, when I was watching video tapes of the Dakar Rally from the 80s and 90s. Now, thanks to KTM, this dream is coming true. First, I would like to thank KTM for this great opportunity; I think I will be the only rider that in just over one month has competed in MotoGP and then the Dakar Rally — so it is with great pride that I go there. My main target is just to finish the race and enjoy it. The first approach was to have some road book training with Jordi; he competed in the race many times and finished on the podium, so he has been great in helping me learn this special art. I had my first taste of riding the KTM 450 RALLY recently at an initial test in the Dubai dunes, where I was with KTM’s Dakar champions and I was able to learn so much from them — it was great to see them riding, and they were super nice and helpful to me. I hope the training for the next month will be enough; for sure it will be a tough race, but I am excited.”
Pit Beirer, KTM motorsports director, said, “Danilo’s talent and his character means he is one of the few elite level guys that we believe can make this radical move from the asphalt to the dunes. It’s a great story for a great guy. We want to thank him for his professionalism and all his efforts as part of the Tech3 team in our MotoGP project and now it’s time for another ‘world’!”