Laia Sanz, the top female rider at the Dakar Rally, has signed with KTM.
Sanz was a star off-roader before she ever raced Dakar , with multiple wins in the Trial Des Nations and different international trials championships. She was the first-place female rider at Dakar from 2011 through to the 2015 edition.
This year, she was arguably Honda’s breakout star; while the factory team’s hotshots suffered all manner of highs and lows, Sanz plugged away steadily and ended with a very respectable ninth overall, thanks to some top-five finishes, the best Dakar motorcycle results for a woman in recent history.
But, Sanz is leaving Big Red for Team Orange. Her contract expired this year, and with her excellent Dakar results in addition to her trials wins, KTM came calling, and Sanz is making the move. The deal makes her part of the KTM Factory Rally Team through the end of the 2017 race; as well, she will race for KTM in the 2015, 2016 and 2017 World Women’s Enduro championships, the X-Games and the World Rally Championship.
“I’m thrilled about it, said Sanz. “Sports is all there is behind my choice. I really like KTM … because I can run races and receive a good training with a reliable factory structure that gives me peace of mind. KTM’s good conditions offered for the World Enduro championship and being able to learn from champions such as Marc Coma and Iván Cervantes tilted the balance in their favour.”
Sanz said she’d grown as a racer with Honda, and they’d offered her money and other incentives to stay, but it seems she thinks she has a better chance to win races with KTM. And, she’s probably right, at least at Dakar; KTM’s riders always dominate the standings, despite Honda’s many stage wins.
The fallout from this decision will be extremely interesting to watch next year. Part of the reason for Sanz’s success this year was a sensible approach, which could have been partly due to the Honda’s iffy reputation for reliability at Dakar. Now that she will be aboard the best bike in the show, will she be a consistent challenger for podiums? It would be fantastic for motorcycle racing if that was to happen.