Dakar 2015 – Sunderland Stage One victor – Price 11th
Speedster Sam Sunderland delivered on his promise at the end of an opening special just 175 km long, beating Paulo Gonçalves (Honda) by a slim margin to claim KTM’s first win of the year.
Despite a streak of bad luck during his first two Dakar starts with Honda, Sam Sunderland showed glimpses of his speed when he took the second stage of the 2014 edition. He made good on this promise during today’s opening stage from Buenos Aires to Villa Carlos Paz, in which he took his second stage win in the biggest rally on Earth.
Reunited with his KTM after its transatlantic crossing, the Englishman masterfully used his motorcycle’s qualities to steal the thunder from teammate Marc Coma, who finished the stage over a minute back.
Sunderland now has good reason to reassess his goals, although the 25-year-old knows that the race is long and the competition will be fierce. Paulo Gonçalves, for instance, wants to make amends in South America. The Portuguese 2013 rally world champion broke down in tears when his Honda burst into flames during the fifth stage of the 2014 Dakar.
Sunderland, was realistic about his Stage One win – “It’s difficult to judge your strategy based on the first day because you still don’t know who’s pulled out all the stops. It’s also important not to go all in, you’ve got to leave something for the other stages…
“However, I think I had a good special and that’s always a reason to be happy. The bike didn’t miss a beat, it was very fast and I probably posted a good time.
“I’m a contender… for the first day. I hope I’m also a contender at the end, but we’ve only covered 175 kilometers and there’s still a long road before us,” he said after the stage.
Sunderland has 175 km in the bank, but 4577 km of tough timed specials to the finish line.
Paulo Goncalves 2nd – + 00’05 – “The first special served as a good warm-up. 175 kilometres and 700 liaison. It went well, with a second place, which was great. But it’s a very long and hard rally. You must have great team-work, be very focused, not make any mistakes and keep the mechanical and physical aspect in as good shape as possible, as this is not only a very long race, but a very tough one too.”
With a narrow five-second deficit to Sunderland after the inaugural stage, Gonçalves is determined to do well, just like Coma, who aims to crush pretenders to his throne. The Spaniard, third in today’s stage, will not have to deal with Cyril Despres, but he will have to keep a watchful eye on fourth-placed Joan Barreda.
Joan Barreda – 4th + 1’41 – “A very quick stage, we got up to some high speeds, and it was difficult, as there was some damaged track due to the rain of the last couple of days. I caught up with Marc, but I stayed behind, taking it calmly. Let’s see how the next few stages go.”
Alain Duclos and his Sherco finished in fifth place, two minutes behind the winner but ahead of Jeremías Israel and fellow countryman David Casteu.
There was also a stunning rookie performance by motocross rider Matthias Walkner, a former MX3 World Motocross Champion but new to rally-raid and the first Austrian to ride in the Dakar since Heinz Kinigadner in the early 1990s. Walkner clinched a solid eighth place in today’s warm-up stage, while Olivier Pain and Jordi Viladoms were extra cautious and conceded over 3′30″.
Factory KTM rider Ruben Faria finished tenth, followed by KTM Australia’s Toby Price, also making his Dakar debut and the factory’s Jordi Viladoms, who was second last year to Coma was fourteenth just behind Rodrigues and Pain.
Olivier Pain – 13th / 03’34 – “I didn’t take any risks today. The track had some deep and very hard ruts in it and a lot of them were hidden in the grass or under the shade of the trees where you couldn’t see them. In conditions like that the best thing is to take it easy and make sure you get to the end. Apart from that there was no drama. The bike went well and I was particularly happy with the top speed. Tomorrow is going to be a big day. The longest special of the rally and I reckon I’m well placed this evening to make the best of it.”
Toby Price posted the 11th-fastest time to be just 3 minutes 31 seconds behind today’s winner Sam Sunderland. While the first stage was a taste of things to come, tomorrow’s second stage from Villa Carlos Paz to San Juan will shatter any illusions of a gentle buildup of load, with a massive, 518 km special stage stretching concentration spans to the limit.
Toby Price: “Today went really well, I’m still just learning at the moment and the navigation wasn’t too hard today, we ended up 11th today after the first stage so I’m stoked!
“Tomorrow is the longest stage of the Dakar – 518km, the first 300km looks a little tricky but fairly fast with some technical navigation sections judging from my road book.”
While Price is the highest ranked Australian in 11th, countrymen Llewellyn Sullivan-Pavey was 84th and Simon Pavey 96th while Clayton Jacobsen currently ranks 128th in the 161 rider field.
Stage One – Buenos Aires to Villa Carlos Paz – 663 km liaison, 175 km special (838 km) – Results
Tomorrow’s Stage – Stage 2 – Monday, 5th January – Villa Carlos Paz (ARG) – San Juan (ARG) – Liaison:107 km – Special stage:518 km
The longest stage –Any rest will be short-lived, because before reaching San Juan, the competitors will have a particularly busy schedule: quite simply the longest special stage in the rally, which is varied enough to unsettle even the most experienced of drivers. Hard terrain at the start of the race will be followed by dusty sections in the middle of the day and a sandy stretch to finish. This is the first real test, which can only be successfully overcome through constant vigilance.
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