Matthias Walkner‘s 2024 Dakar Rally is over a month before it even began. While training in America alongside Red Bull KTM Factory Racing team-mate and defending winner Kevin Benavides, he fell off his bike and suffered multiple fractures to his left tibia, fibula, and foot, along with a comminuted fracture of the upper left ankle.
The duo had started their practice run at a moderate pace, but Walkner was unable to see a five-metre cliff edge due to dust and he dropped into it, hitting a slope at the bottom. He described the impact as “pretty severe” but added he was “glad I didn’t have a major back injury.”
He was airlifted to a hospital in Palm Springs and successfully underwent surgery, though additional procedures are required that he plans to undergo in his native Austria.
Benavides had also hurt his left leg in a crash on Sunday. Although it forced him to limit his practice runs for Dakar, he expects to recover in time for the race in January.
“It’s been a very difficult few days for the team here in the United States,” said team manager Andreas Hölzl. “Training for the Dakar had been going extremely well, with all riders working very hard. Kevin damaged his leg last Sunday, but thankfully, it wasn’t too bad. We hope he will be back to near full fitness by Dakar.
“On Monday, Matthias had a nasty crash while training, which ended up in him having several fractures. The surgery went really well, and they have attached a fixator to his left leg to help the recovery. But he will require more surgery, once the swelling starts to go down. Obviously, these two incidents have been a massive blow to the team, but we will continue to look ahead and do all we can to be as strong as possible for Dakar. The whole team wishes both Matthias and Kevin a quick and full recovery.”
The 2023 World Rally-Raid Championship was not kind to Walkner, who suffered a spinal injury late in the Dakar Rally that forced him to miss the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge. He returned to action at the Sonora Rally and finished fourth among points-eligible riders (fifth overall), before bowing out of the Desafío Ruta 40 after sacrificing parts from his bike to help championship-contending team-mate Toby Price. Walkner crashed again just meters into Stage #3 of the season-ending Rallye du Maroc. He finished the season twelfth in the RallyGP standings.
While Benavides won the Dakar Rally for the second time in 2023, he also missed three races due to injury. He broke his femur just days before Abu Dhabi, then skipped the last two races after sustaining a broken wrist in another practice accident.
The 2024 Dakar Rally begins, without Walkner, on 5 January. He would have been gunning for his second victory after claiming the 2018 title.