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ADV NewsCOVID Scare, Bone Fracture…Wild Ride To Dakar For Danilo Petrucci

COVID Scare, Bone Fracture…Wild Ride To Dakar For Danilo Petrucci

MotoGP star turned Rally Racer won’t give up on Dakar dream, despite roadblocks.

Published on 12.31.2021
Danilo Petrucci road to Dakar

What a rollercoaster ride the last couple months have been for MotoGP racer turned Dakar rider Danilo Petrucci. Despite two race wins, Danilo finds out he is nixed from next year’s KTM Tech3 MotoGP team, but is then offered a seat on the Austrian manufacturer’s Dakar Factory Racing Team alongside veteran riders Toby Price, Matthias Walkner and Kevin Benavides. This, despite Danilo’s total lack of Rally Raid experience.  

Back in November he called the switch-up a dream come true, saying Dakar was something he’d wanted to do since he was a child watching video tapes of the original Paris-Dakar events. 

Danilo Petrucci road to Dakar false positive COVID test

The Italian rider has a background that includes plenty of motocross and enduro riding, but nothing that bears comparison to the grueling 14-day, 12-stage event he faces in January. An event that will cover more than 8,300 kilometers of infamously dangerous Saudi Arabian desert, a brand new route the Dakar organization has playfully dubbed “Sand Galore!”


Excited but confident, Danilo starts training for Dakar before his 2021 MotoGP season ends in mid-November, traveling to Dubai to get a feel for his Dakar bike, a factory-prepared KTM 450 Rally. Floating across the local dunes he also receives his first round of critical road book training from KTM’s Rally Sport Manager and Dakar veteran Jordi Viladoms. 

Danilo Petrucci road to Dakar false positive COVID test

But on his return trip to the Dubai training grounds on December 10th, Danilo suffers a major wipeout in some deceptive sand that results in a “small fracture” to his right fibula, the smaller of the two bones in the shin, tasked with supporting the ankle. At this point there are less than three weeks before Dakar 2022’s New Year’s Day kickoff, but Danilo remains unshaken, flying back to Terni, Italy, to rest and receive physical therapy.  

“That little fracture won’t compromise my Dakar debut,” Danilo told Speedweek at the time. “I don’t go jogging so far, but I cycle on the roller and can continue my fitness training at home unhindered.”

Danilo Petrucci road to Dakar COVID scare

On Christmas Eve KTM posts a promotional video showing Danilo tearing around the Dubai dunes. In the accompanying interview we get a glimpse into the 31-year-old’s thinking. 

“I have always had the target to race one day in the Dakar,” he says, calling it one of the biggest challenges of his lifetime. “I think I am the first one to do such a big jump, from MotoGP to a Dakar rally,” he continues, adding that with so many riding days it will be like doing an entire MotoGP season in just two weeks. Danilo admits he’s “a little bit scared” but also very excited for the event.

Then, on the morning of December 30th, after months of physical training and mental preparation, the Dakar rookie suffers yet another setback as he tests positive for Covid-19 and is forced to isolate, his dream of riding Dakar slipping from his grasp. And he’s not the only one. Sara Garcia, the first woman to finish the event’s unassisted Malle Moto class, also tests positive and is put into quarantine.  

Danilo Petrucci road to Dakar COVID scare

Dakar and the nation of Saudi Arabia have implemented stringent Covid-19 protocols for the 2022, creating a zero-tolerance bubble participants must remain in ahead of and during the event. Negative PCR tests are the price of admission, both before you board a plane for Saudi Arabia and once again before you’re allowed to enter the bivouac. But due to the inherent possibility for false positives, the organization performs a second PCR test on each rider before they are disqualified.

And just like that, Danilo’s follow-up PCR test in the afternoon comes back negative (Sara’s too) and his first Dakar is back on! 

Talk about whiplash.

Through it all Danilo has been a model of positivity, and also humility. This year, his only goal is to simply finish the event, hoping his presence and the challenge it represents encourages others to welcome new opportunities, no matter how daring. He also hopes to bring MotoGP fans to the exciting world of Dakar and Rally Raid. 

Danilo is definitely a rider we’ll be watching this year, all the while holding our collective breath in hopes that from here on out it’s nothing but smooth dune sailing for the MotoGP convert.

Photography by KTM

Author: Jamie Elvidge

Jamie has been a motorcycle journalist for more than 30 years, testing the entire range of bikes for the major print magazines and specializing in adventure-travel related stories. To date she’s written and supplied photography for articles describing what it’s like to ride in all 50 states and 43 foreign countries, receiving two Lowell Thomas Society of American Travel Writer’s Awards along the way. Her most-challenging adventure yet has been riding in the 2018 GS Trophy in Mongolia as Team AusAmerica’s embedded journalist.

Author: Jamie Elvidge

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