In yesterday’s prologue, or Stage 0, to the 2021 Dakar Rally Ricky Brabec picked up exactly where he left off from 2020.
Last year’s winner set the fastest time through the short 11 km special stage ahead of his Honda team mate Joan Barreda Bort. Brabec will lead the bikes out for stage one and is expected to set a cracking pace.
The big surprise yesterday was rookie Australian Daniel Sanders who finished the special stage in third place, just 13 seconds behind Brabec.
Sanders has joined fellow Australian Toby Price at KTM for this year’s event, and while he has extensive off-road experience and wins to his name he has had limited time using his navigation skills in vast sandy deserts like those in Saudi Arabia.
It will be interesting to see if he can adapt quickly, and his teaming with two times winner Toby Price will certainly help.
Price finished yesterday’s prologue in a solid 9th position and was quite happy with that result.
Price and Sanders are 2 of 4 Australian riders competing in this years event.
Albury based rider Andrew Houlihan is competing in his first Dakar Rally, and so is fellow Australian Michael Burgess.
Houlihan is once again back with the Coca-Cola Nomadas Adventure team, this time on board a 2020 model KTM450 Rally Factory Replica.
Despite worldwide COVID restrictions preventing Andrew from competing since racing in the 2020 Africa ECO race last January, he was able to put in a strong performance yesterday, initially coming in in 74th position.
However an electrical glitch on the bike prevented the tracking system from recording 2 waypoints, and Andrew was handed a penalty that pushed him back down the order to 97th place.
His Coca-Cola Nomadas Adventure team-mate, Pablo Guillen, managed to sneak in a few events this year, including the Sonora Rally in Mexico in March where he once again showed that he is a serious contender in desert rallies. He finished yesterday with the 72nd fastest time.
With more than 4,800 km of special stages over 12 days of competition, placings at this early stage in the rally are not that important. What is important is getting a good feel for the bike and getting into a rhythm that a rider can maintain for almost 2 weeks through some of the toughest conditions they will ever have to experience.
The other Australian rider in this year’s event, Michael Burgess, finished the short special stage 1 minute and 14 seconds behind Ricky Brabec. Burgess and Houlihan have been doing extensive roadbook training in the Australian deserts which will no doubt help them in this event.
So with the shakedown and prologue done, it’s onto the first of the serious stages today.
What can the riders expect?
Stage 1 of the 2021 Dakar Rally will take riders from Jeddah to Bisha.
There is a 311km liaison, 276km special stage with 3 checkpoints, and finally a 35km trip into the bivouac.
Riders can expect a varied stage, that is demanding in both navigation and riding.
The special stage will be held entirely on tracks of sand and soil, but the riders briefing suggested there will be small sections (around 3%) of stoney surface. Competitors have been warned of the risk of punctures in the stoney sections and to stay on the centre of tracks because of heavy ruts on the edges.
The main navigation challenge lies in the numerous intersections riders will face and the risk of choosing the wrong track.
Riders will be able to refuel at the beginning of the special stage and again at checkpoint 3, 177km into the special stage.
101 bikes are expected to start Stage 1.
You can follow live timing for the Dakar Rally here.