EX­CLU­SIVE IN­TER­VIEW: Sam Sun­der­land re­veals how he did it

Motorcycle News (UK) - - This Week - MCN SPORT RE­PORTER si­mon.pat­ter­son@mo­tor­cy­cle­

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!”


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