In the rugged world of Rally Dakar off-road racing, where grit, determination, and sheer skill converge, one name has recently emerged as a beacon of inspiration – Tobias Ebster. At just 26 years old, this Austrian wunderkind has already etched his name in the annals of motorsport history, clinching victory in the prestigious Rally Dakar’s Original by Motul (previously malle moto) category.
Having entered his first rally race – the Hellas Rally Raid – just three years ago and working two jobs making ski boot driers and heaters and delivering pizzas on the side, Tobias went from having fun at motocross to racing in the European Championship against riders like Stefan Svitko, winning the Dubai Baja, nailing it at the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, and getting his golden ticket to race Rally Dakar in 2024… And winning the Original by Motul at first try.
In this interview, Tobias shares the details of his incredible Dakar journey, offering a glimpse into the challenges he faced and the triumphs he savored along the way.
A Humble Beginning
Born into a family with a passion for motorsport, Tobias’s journey began at an early age, fueled by a love for two wheels and an insatiable appetite for adventure. “I was 4 or 5 years old when I got my first bike,” Tobias recounts, reflecting on his humble beginnings in the world of motocross. With his uncle, Heinz Kinigadner, a revered figure in the racing community, as his guiding light, Tobias embarked on a journey that would shape his destiny.
“My uncle Heinz made two World Championship titles and then started with rally racing,” Tobias explains, acknowledging the pivotal role his uncle played in nurturing his passion for racing. It was under Heinz’s tutelage that Tobias honed his skills, gradually transitioning from motocross to the demanding realm of desert racing.
“In Austria, it’s all motocross, but when my uncle got into the rally world, I followed – I figured desert racing was something really cool, and I was hooked”, Tobias shares.
The Road to Dakar
Tobias’s ascent in the world of rally raid racing was marked by perseverance, resilience, and an unwavering commitment to excellence. His breakthrough came at the Hellas Rally, where he showcased his talent by finishing second in his debut appearance. “That was my first Hellas Rally,” Tobias recalls. “I finished second and after that, I went to the European Championship… and finished second overall,” he adds, highlighting his remarkable progression in the rallying world.
However, it was his victory at the Dubai Baja World Cup Final that set the stage for his ultimate challenge – the Rally Dakar. “When you’re doing good, you can then enter to the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, and if you win the Road to Dakar category, you get the golden ticket to the Rally Dakar,” Tobias explains, shedding light on the path that led him to the pinnacle of off-road racing.
The Dakar Dream
For Tobias, the Rally Dakar represented the culmination of years of hard work, dedication, and sacrifice. “It was just basically me, a toolbox, and a tent,” Tobias reflects on his solitary journey in the Original by Motul category. Despite the challenges of navigating the treacherous terrain alone, Tobias remained steadfast in his resolve to conquer the desert – and win the Original by Motul, the rookie category, and finishing 20th overall: an incredibly remarkable result for a 26-year-old with two jobs and a passion that, in the end, trumped all.
So how do you go from pizza delivery to Dakar podium? It turns out, perseverance and talent do pave the way, and the support of family and friends is invaluable.
Deciphering the Roadbook
When asked about his navigation experience, Tobias admits he had none prior to his first rally. He vividly recalls sitting down with his uncle Heinz who introduced him to rally symbols. “I thought, ‘OK, what is this?’ It looked like Chinese to me,” he says. To practice, Tobias turned to the Rally Dakar video game on PlayStation4, familiarizing himself with the symbols and their meanings. “It helped me a lot,” he acknowledges.
Reflecting on his journey, Tobias suggests starting with smaller rallies before tackling larger ones like the Hellas Rally. He recommends events like the Oasis Rally in Tunisia for beginners, citing lower costs and valuable desert riding experience. “The Oasis Rally will set you back about 3,500 euros including your entry fees and flights, and that’s a really low cost for a desert rally compared to most North African races out there”, Tobias shares. “And if it turns out you’re not into rally racing after all, at least you’ll be able to say you’ve ridden your bike in the desert. How cool is that?”
The Perfect Bike for the Job
Tobias emphasizes the importance of choosing the right bike for different terrains. For European rallies, he prefers a KTM 450 Enduro, while for desert races, he recommends the 450 Rally Replica. He advises against using larger rally bikes for smaller events due to their weight and complexity.
When it comes to bike modifications, Tobias keeps it simple, focusing on essentials like a navigation tower and a larger gas tank. He opts for a smaller, more manageable navigation tower to maintain visibility and minimize crash damage.
“Instead of a large navigation tower – which gets in the way of seeing your front tire and is prone to serious damage if you crash – I chose a simple, small Hasi Moto navigation setup that’s dead easy to install and remove (it’s literally just 4 screws). Bolt it on, race a rally, then undo the four screws, pack the cables away and you’re good to go for enduro riding again”, Tobias explains.
While he did adjust his suspension to make it a little stiffer, that was the extent of his bike modifications – Tobias prefers function and simplicity over complex mods.
Racing in the Original by Motul means the riders are required to maintain their bikes alone; no assistance is permitted. For Tobias, simplicity was key here, too.
“I’d change the oil every day, change the oil filter every second day, remove the air out of the forks, check the chain, and that was basically it. On the rest day, I changed the clutch and the brake pads; I had to change the chain and sprockets one, and I raced the entire Dakar with four sets of tires. The factory guys run new tires every day, but a set of tires and mousses costs 600-700 euros, and I had to be mindful of the costs, too”, Tobias explains.
Financial Considerations and Sponsor Support
Speaking of costs, Tobias acknowledges the financial strain of rally racing but credits sponsors for covering 60% of his expenses. He highlights the importance of family support and collaborative teamwork in funding his racing endeavors. “The entry fee for Dakar was 18,000 euros, and I had to work hard to be able to race”, Tobias shares. His KTM was a loan from a KINI dealership in Austria, and he says budget was a factor in his choice to race in the Original by Motul class: “I did it because it’s the real deal and because it’s a huge adventure, but additionally, entering malle moto saves you around 30,000 euros in entry fees”.
Physical Preparation and Nutrition
Maintaining physical fitness is crucial for endurance racing, and Tobias follows a rigorous training regimen that includes rowing and cycling. During races, he relies on a carefully crafted nutrition plan, incorporating supplements and energy bars to sustain his performance.
Racing the Dakar, Tobias stuck to a calculated approach to racing, recognizing the importance of pacing over long distances. Despite going fast, he consciously held back from giving his all, mindful of the physical demands and the need to maintain his bike. His primary focus was on finishing the race, understanding that mistakes are inevitable but part of the learning process.
“The really fast guys get extremely exhausted and fatigued – I’ve seen riders literally lying on the ground at the finish line breathing hard, I’ve seen riders crash out… I new that if I had a bad crash, that would be game over for me, so I needed to use my head and pace myself if I was to finish”, Tobias reveals.
Having cracked his ribs during Stage Two, Tobias struggled with painkillers, and racing 8,000 kilometers over brutal terrain in 14 days is a superhuman feat – but the intrepid Austrian says that, despite the numerous challenges, he took on the Dakar intending to have fun and enjoy the stunning landscapes as he raced across Saudi Arabia, and the entire experience was nothing short of exhilarating.
Beyond the Finish Line
Tobias’s victory in the Rally Dakar is more than just a testament to his skill and determination; it is a testament to the human spirit’s resilience and tenacity. As he sets his sights on future endeavors, Tobias remains grounded, his eyes set firmly on the road ahead.
In the world of off-road racing, where every twist and turn defines destiny, Tobias stands out as a shining example of the power of perseverance, passion, and unwavering determination. As he continues to push the boundaries of what is possible, Tobias’s journey serves as an inspiration to aspiring racers worldwide, reminding them that with courage, commitment, and a dash of daring, anything is achievable.
Follow Tobias on his social media as he takes on the Abu Dhabi Challenge, the Oasis rally, and beyond this year:
Interview: Dalibor Slama, Bivouac Stories
Watch the Bivouac Stories on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/@BivouacStories