Dakar hero Sam in­ter­viewed

Sam Sun­der­land man­aged to do a lit­tle more than fin­ish the Dakar – he won it!

Motorcycle News (UK) - - This Week - MICHAEL GUY SPORTS ED­I­TOR michael.guy@mo­tor­cy­cle­news.com

It’s taken 38 years, but on Jan­uary 14, 2017 Sam Sun­der­land be­came the first ever Bri­ton to win the Dakar. In do­ing so the 27-year-old claimed one of the big­gest and most pres­ti­gious prizes in mo­tor­cy­cle rac­ing.

Dakar is a race like no other; over 5000 miles in 13 days with this year’s event lit­er­ally push­ing the world’s best rally rid­ers to the ab­so­lute limit across South Amer­ica.

The 2017 race will be re­mem­bered for its ex­treme ter­rain, al­ti­tude and nav­i­ga­tion along with un­prece­dented weather con­di­tions, which saw two stages can­celled due to dev­as­tat­ing floods and land­slides. Rid­ers also had to con­tend with near-freez­ing rid­ing con­di­tions on one day only to be con­fronted with close to a hor­rific 50-de­grees the next.

Fourth time lucky

Hav­ing never fin­ished the Dakar, de­spite three pre­vi­ous at­tempts at the gru­elling race, Sun­der­land did not start as a favourite, in fact he ar­rived un­der the radar. But the way he won Dakar was any­thing but in­con­spic­u­ous; lead­ing from day five he soaked up the pres­sure and main­tained his in­cred­i­ble speed with­out mak­ing mis­takes to se­cure vic­tory by 32 min­utes.

MCN caught up with the fac­tory Red­bull KTM fac­tory rider at his home in Dubai to see how life in the his­tory books is pan­ning out for the laid back and hum­ble Brit.

“It still feels funny when any­one says to me that I’m a Dakar win­ner. Af­ter the race I trav­elled back to Dubai where no-one knows what Dakar even is and I’ve just gone back to nor­mal. I’m about to go out and walk the dog!

“To be hon­est, it still feels like a dream. It’s so cool to be the first Brit to win it. I live in Dubai, but I’m English, born in Poole, and I’m proud to be English. I hope that it gen­er­ates some in­ter­est be­cause the story of Dakar is a story that I be­lieve ev­ery­one can take some­thing from.”

Never give up... ever

“I man­aged to win the race, but I can still eas­ily list 10 times where I thought my race was done. You have to keep go­ing, no mat­ter what gets thrown at you. I think that’s the ethos of rac­ing Dakar and I think it’s a cool men­tal­ity to have in life.”

But while Sam re­mains philo­soph­i­cal about his achieve­ments, his route to the pin­na­cle of the sport has been any­thing but easy. Up un­til this year he hadn’t even made it to the end of the first week in any of the three Dakars he’d con­tested and he’s failed to even make the start of the race twice due to in­jury.

“It has taken a huge amount of work and in a way win­ning it ac­tu­ally feels like a re­lief be­cause of all the ups and downs I’ve had over the years. I know there had been a ques­tion mark over my name be­cause while I’ve ob­vi­ously had good re­sults in the past, Dakar has al­ways eluded me. I’ve spent my ca­reer drag­ging my­self up and try­ing to get back to fit­ness af­ter some big crashes and in­juries. When you work hard for some­thing for so long and then you have it all lin­ing up per­fectly and then it goes away, it’s hard. So when it does ac­tu­ally all work out it makes me feel proud and it gives it even more value.”

It’s not all about speed

His re­sound­ing suc­cess in this year’s race has been the re­sult of a change in mind­set. As a for­mer mo­tocrosser, Sun­der­land has never lacked speed or brav­ery and even among his Dakar rid­ing peers when it comes to rac­ing open desert there is sim­ply no-one faster. His prob­lem has been un­timely crashes and sub­se­quent in­juries, in­clud­ing a hor­rific fe­mur break dur­ing the Morocco Rally in 2015.

“As a re­sult of the Morocco crash I rode dif­fer­ently in 2016. I tried to stay calm and be safe in the world cham­pi­onship sea­son to make sure I ar­rived at Dakar in good shape. I know that I don’t have to worry about my speed, my worry is get­ting to the fin­ish of ev­ery day and not do­ing any­thing crazy. And by be­ing more mea­sured in the world cham­pi­onship rounds all year it helped my men­tal­ity when it came to Dakar. I stopped try­ing to make some­thing hap­pen when it wasn’t pos­si­ble.”

Deal­ing with pres­sure

This change in men­tal­ity saw Sun­der­land put to­gether a bril­liant sea­son in the 2016 FIM World Cross Coun­try cham­pi­onship, fin­ish­ing sec­ond over­all. But while his calmer ap­proach and abil­ity to lead and win races in the shorter world cham­pi­onship events is be­yond doubt – win­ning the two-week long Dakar is a chal­lenge like no other.

“I knew it was go­ing to be big pres­sure lead­ing the Dakar, be­cause I’ve dealt with the pres­sure from lead­ing other races be­fore, but I didn’t think it was go­ing to be so in­tense. From the out­side you wouldn’t have known and who­ever asked me I was just say­ing ‘I’m tak­ing it day by day and not even think­ing about the win’. I was telling peo­ple that to try and con­vince my­self! But of course I was think­ing about win­ning Dakar! It’s all I’ve been train­ing for and think­ing about for the last seven years!”

With his name on the Dakar tro­phy, Sun­der­land has achieved his life­long goal. You won’t meet a more ded­i­cated and fo­cused racer, with his en­tire life cen­tred around a race that hap­pens only once a year. He’s al­ready one of Rally rac­ing’s elite, he’s the first Brit to get his hands on the tro­phy and at the age of just 27 he has plenty of time to dom­i­nate.

ÔIÕVE spent my ca­reer get­ting back to fit­ness af­ter some big crash­esõ

When you live in Dubai you can’t drive around in a knack­ered white Ford Tran­sit Two con­tented in­di­vid­u­als - Sam with his Dakar tro­phy and Beau with his best pal Red­bull don’t make branded shoes De­ter­mi­na­tion earns you a fac­tory KTM in your shed - and mul­ti­ple broken bones

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.