BRIT WINS DAKAR
EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Sam Sunderland reveals how he did it
Sam Sunderland has become the first British racer to win the Dakar Rally. He struck on stage five and pulled a margin over his rivals that they never managed to claw back.
Sunderland kept his cool right to the end of the 12-stage race, aided in part by treacherous weather conditions across South America that saw a number of this year’s stages cancelled and some 42% of the original route abandoned.
The factory KTM rider has shown pace for the last few years but has never actually finished the world’s toughest race. And he clearly stated that was his target this year, so to take his first finish with a win is an incredible feat.
Coming from a motocross background Dubai-based Sunderland said he had ‘toned down’ his riding to make sure he could go the distance. After the race he revealed exclusively to MCN how this year’s win marks the completion of a long switch in style.
He said: “It hasn’t really sunk in, although emotions kind of took over when I crossed the finish line. The last six days were a big weight on my shoulders, but I feel incredible now. I owe a huge thank you to the team, though, because the bike has been fantastic for two weeks. And I’m really thankful to everyone who supports me – thank you, and we’ve finally managed to do it!
“Obviously I came from a motocross background, and you have to completely change for rally riding. It’s a long time to stay focused, and it’s taken me some time to adjust. I learned the hard way though, and I kept fighting and never gave up.
“After I broke my leg last year and missed the Dakar, it really had a big effect on me psychologically. I had an operation in a horrible, horrible place in the middle of the desert in Morocco and it was a tough time. I had to learn from that and I’ve definitely taken it a bit easier here and there this year. But I still want to go fast, I’m a racer but when it’s tricky I’m taking my time.”
The 27-year-old won by over halfan-hour in the end, but leading from stage five brought its own challenges. He added: “The pressure and the stress after leading for six days has been immense. When you’re in the bivouac you can talk to people, but on the bike you’re alone for 14 hours a day and you have all kinds of things creeping into your mind. It’s not easy to stay focused and concentrated on the job ahead.
“It wasn’t until the last five kilometres that I even started to think that the victory might be possible. I’ve been trying to block it out, just trying to stay calm and not think about it. But it’s like a dream come true. I’ve worked so hard, and so has everyone else in the team, but it’s been a challenge for me every day since I decided to race rally, for four or five years. It’s a lot of work and a full time job, but I wouldn’t change it for the world and it’s nice that it’s finally paid off now.”
But while the win was an important one for the Poole native, he believes that it’s an important one for the race as a whole too. “Hopefully we can create some British interest, because so far there hasn’t been much – but we might change that now!”