Features 22 Jan 2015

Race Recap: Toby Price

Dakar Rally revelation speaks directly to MotoOnline.com.au.

KTM Australia’s Toby Price has officially arrived on the world stage as an off-road racing phenomenon. The 27-year-old shocked the international racing community with his incredible podium result in his first-ever Dakar Rally through the unforgiving, wild landscapes of Argentina, Bolivia and Chile. Fresh off the plane and still clutching his Dakar trophy, MotoOnline.com.au caught up with Pricey to get hear some of his crazy stories and glean his thoughts on not only surviving, but conquering the world’s greatest off-road race.

Source: KTM.

Source: KTM.

You must be pretty wrecked right now after probably the biggest two weeks of your life. Has your achievement sunken in yet?

Yeah I’m pretty beat up and sore, that’s for sure! I think it’s started to sink in now that I’m looking back seeing photos of me up on the podium next to Marc Coma and Paulo Goncalves, and when I look at my trophy. I’ll tell ya what – I didn’t let that bag with the trophy out of my sight on the trip home. It was one that was bloody hard work to get and I definitely won’t be losing it, that’s for sure. I’m happy as hell right now.

Of all the events that you’ve raced, how does this compare, both in its mental and physical difficulty?

I think every race has its times of being mentally and physically demanding, but there’s no event in the world that goes for two weeks straight and covers 10,000km off-road. Going into it we didn’t know how to prepare for it, or what to expect, really. The first week was just about learning things, where we had to be, setting myself up and just trying to come to grips with it all.
On some stages we’d get to the end after riding 500km just to get to the 300km special test – it’d be seven or eight hours on the bike – then I had to bury my head in the road books for a couple hours to plan the next day’s route, shower, have some food and hydrate, go to bed, then be up by 2:00am or 3:00am ready to go again. It was like being a robot for two weeks and you forget about the days and how far you have to go: you just take each day as it comes, get to the finish, then plan the next day. It drains you big-time, for sure.

Did you ever stop and pinch yourself that you were racing the legendary Dakar?

Not really during the event, but during the opening ceremonies and looking at the huge crowd, it started to sink in that I was a part of something pretty special. A lot of Aussies have gone and raced the Dakar before and it’s cool to see just how much of a commitment they put in to get there. For myself, I didn’t expect to be on the podium, although as a racer, I wanted to be at the pointy end of the field. Inside myself I was hoping for a top 10 but told the media I’d be happy with a top 20; I wanted to play down the hype, take each day as it came, put my head into the job and cruise along.

Cruising? I don’t believe it.

[Laughs] well, yeah, if you can call 150-160km/h cruising!

You covered a huge amount of distance over those two weeks. Was there one section that you look back on now and think, ‘wow that was amazing’?

On the last few days coming into Argentina out of the hills the navigation wasn’t so bad and the tracks were cut into these huge cliffs. If you clipped a rock and went over the edge your bike definitely wasn’t coming out, and you probably weren’t either. If you craned your neck and looked up and down, the view was amazing and that was an unreal section. But every day was a new experience and a new challenge. It was so hard to prepare for each day as we didn’t know what was coming; if you didn’t have the right gear you could either freeze to death or cook yourself from the inside out.

Source: KTM.

Source: KTM.

I think one of the first viral video clips to come out of this year’s Dakar was you having a huge moment coming out of a river crossing. That was you, right?

Yeah that was me [laughs]! I thought the crossing would be like all the others and decided to have a crack at it. It turns out the big girl doesn’t like square-edged holes in river-banks and she was a big handful to hold onto. It’d be lying if I said I didn’t come close to soiling my pants over that! It looked ugly, but that’s exactly what the whole race is like. It’s almost like texting and driving: everything looks perfect and you’re flying along, you take your eyes off the track to look at the map or whatever, and a rock, boulder, tree, stump, wall, whatever that was maybe 50 metres away is suddenly right there and it can turn ugly very quickly. That’s what so scary about Dakar.

The organisers this year came under a lot of fire for running a wet stage that a lot of people said should’ve been scrapped. What’s your take on it?

It was a bit silly, to be honest. The stage was on a salt flat and it’d poured rain all night. We woke up and crossed some rivers to get to the startline, then we saw the conditions and the riders kicked up a stink. The stage was full-gas for 135km with water covering the flat between a thin film and 20cm. I read somewhere afterward that the conditions were about 35 times worse than living next to the ocean and riding up and down the beach every day. The corrosion to our bikes and gear was insane and you could pretty much see the salt eating away at our bikes in front of our eyes. After the stage I couldn’t start my bike and when I touched the bike frame I got zapped because the entire chassis had become electrified. The team had to pull all the electrics out of the bike and rewire the entire thing, and they found one of the plugs had all three points corroded out, but somehow the bike kept going! All my map-readers and gauges kept working somehow, which is incredibly lucky. I could’ve easily been one of those casualties that day.

As it turned out, that day kind of worked in your favour, with some of the front-runners not finishing.

It’s bad to say, but yeah, it did help and it certainly would’ve made it a lot tougher to get on the podium if that stage had been scrapped. Anything could’ve happened over the next few days though and that’s the crazy thing about Dakar: it’s not about being the fastest, it’s about being the smartest and knowing when to pull back. Marc Coma only won one stage as well, and he still finished 23 minutes ahead of me in the overall standings.

How has the media attention been for you back home? Have you had much recognition from mainstream media, especially after winning one of the last stages?

Winning a stage really put my name out there and put me in front of a lot of people who hadn’t heard of me. It’s definitely helped my profile and I hope it’s going to help the sport here, the Australian scene and some of the great offroad racers we’ve got in this country. As for the Australian media, it probably took them a week to jump on board, which was a bummer, but it was amazing to see the Aussie industry really get behind me and promote me. Now that I’m back home we’ve got a few interviews starting to line up and hopefully that opens up some doors for Dakar 2016. We didn’t have any sponsors this year but going back with the #3 plate will get good exposure, and hopefully we’ll get some good mainstream TV time now too.

Source: KTM.

Source: KTM.

Are you ready to do it again?

I wouldn’t like to turn around in two days and do it again that’s for sure! It’s like Finke or Hattah: after a few days when you’ve caught up and your body’s healed it gets in your blood and you definitely get excited for it again. At the moment my body’s flogged out and I feel like an 80-year-old bloke. Give me a few days and it’ll all be on again.

Finally, you’re quickly proving to be the most versatile rider in Australia. Junior motocross titles, national off-road and endurocross championships, you’re the desert racing king and now a Dakar podium winner. Pretty much the only things left to conquer are trials and road racing.

Yeah, it’s a pretty good resume now, isn’t it? I like to win races but I’d also like to be known as a well-rounded rider who can chop and change between disciplines and be right up there. It’s cool to see my profile building and the aim now is to keep that ball rolling. And hey, if someone wants to give me a road bike and a track, I’ll have a crack at it!

[Laughs] putting it out there! Thanks for the chat, mate. Rest up and enjoy the moment.

Will do, thanks brother.