Kevin Benavides, the 2021 Dakar motorcycle champion, has a new job. Or rather, a new employer.
Benavides, the hometown hero during the rally’s South American days (he’s from Argentina), has moved from the Honda factory team to KTM. He’ll ride alongside Toby Price, Matthias Walkner, and Sam Sunderland. That means KTM’s factory squad will now have the four Dakar winners as teammates.
Why would Benavides make the move? He’s had plenty of success at Honda, starting in the middle of the rally’s decade in South America. Benavides said “I truly believe that it’s the best choice for me to further my racing and to be able to challenge for more Dakar wins and the World Championship title … Looking ahead to next year, the ultimate goal would be to win back-to-back Dakars.”
The biggest competition will be from his own team, by the look of it. Yamaha’s factory team is a disaster; the riders are great, but their bikes just don’t hold together over the race. Honda is very strong, even with Benavides gone, but word is Big Red is pulling funding away from the team (maybe that’s why Benavides left?). Honda’s Ricky Brabec and “Nacho” Cornejo are both podium threats, especially Brabec (who won the 2020 race), but the team doesn’t have the multi-layer threat that KTM has.
It will be interesting to see if Benavides’ departure means another signing for Honda. If there’s budget to bring in a replacement, Skyler Howes is available, last we heard. Riding as a privateer, the US-based racer was the best privateer the past two years, finishing top-ten in 2020 and 2021. It would be excellent to see him get the funding he deserved—he actually sold everything he owned except his bicycle to get to the 2021 race, he said in an interview this year.