Saturday, April 20, 2024

Andreas Holzl: Budget, media factor into KTM’s W2RC absence

Rally raid bike fans have surely been disappointed at the lack of entries in the premier RallyGP category during the first half of the 2024 World Rally-Raid Championship as many teams including Red Bull KTM Factory Racing opt not to run the full calendar like they used to. In an interview with SPEEDWEEK on 15 March, KTM AG rally general manager Andreas Hölzl explained the team’s absence stems from a combination of budget and poor media exposure, which can go hand in hand for racing since too few of the latter means low return on investment and therefore little reason to continue their support.

KTM is one of the top bike marques in the discipline, having recently won the Dakar with Kevin Benavides in 2023 and nineteen in total. Toby Price went on to finish runner-up in the 2023 W2RC by just nine points, narrowly missing out on his second world rally title after claiming the 2018 FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship. Despite their successes, KTM and rivals GasGas and defending champion Husqvarna, all of which are owned by Pierer Mobility Group, did not register for the 2024 championship, rendering their riders ineligible to earn points at Dakar. None of the three have returned to the series for the two rounds since.

Hölzl, who took over as KTM rally director from Norbert Stadlbauer in September 2023, explained to SPEEDWEEK that the team’s main focus remains on Dakar while other rounds are not worth pursuing at the moment. This has been especially apparent as Pierer undergoes a series of reshuffling and budget cuts.

“This decision (to not race for points) was already made in fall 2023,” Hölzl began. “The championship itself works pretty well, you have to admit, but the main race is still the Dakar. It’s the most famous, interesting, and prestigious race, and that’s what we focus on. All of this costs a lot of money, and in times like these, it must be well invested. The financial aspect is one thing because you also have to pay a fee to the promoter, and media presence is also not as we would like it yet.”

He also pointed to safety regulations at the other W2RC rounds not being as robust as the Dakar. Although KTM’s Benavides and Matthias Walkner suffered injuries in testing crashes in 2023, he felt the safety standards in races are too much of a risk.

“Everything at the Dakar is organised in an exemplary manner, but that’s not the case in all races,” he continued. “In the Dakar, there was significantly more navigation and the average speed fell. From our point of view, the direction is correct. For example, there was a rally in which a stage was used twice. The bike went along a route where cars had recently been traveling, and that is dangerous.”

In spite of this, Hölzl notes the team plans to return for the final two rounds, the Desafío Ruta 40 in June and the Rallye du Maroc in October. Benavides will continue with the team while Walkner is still recovering from a devastating leg injury. Price left KTM in March.

With Pierer’s properties not signed up for points, the RallyGP class was unusually barren for the second and third rounds of the W2RC. The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge only saw two riders from Hero MotoSports while this week’s BP Ultimate Rally-Raid features eight riders, the bulk coming from Hero and Monster Energy Honda Rally Team.