Strong fourth for Sunderland at Dakar Rally Stage Eight – Red Bull KTM Team Report
Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s Toby Price has successfully completed stage eight of the 2021 Dakar Rally in an excellent second place. Teammate Sam Sunderland put in yet another strong performance for fourth, with all four factory riders finishing inside the top 10 as Daniel Sanders and Matthias Walkner claimed seventh and eighth respectively.
Images courtesy of Rally Zone
Marking the second half of the rally’s marathon stage, the 709km day eight offered no respite for the riders. Leaving the temporary bivouac at Sakaka behind and heading west, a 226km liaison led riders to the start of the 375km timed special. Comprising a challenging mix of sandy tracks followed by difficult to navigate stony pistes, the stage to Neom would test all riders’ skill and endurance on the second of two incredibly tough days in the desert.
Toby Price endured a mixed first leg of the marathon stage. The Australian led till well over the halfway point when unfortunately a rock sliced open his rear tire, forcing him to ease his pace to the finish. Not able to change or swap the damaged item due to the marathon stage rules, Price carried out a makeshift repair last night before today taking on the 709km stage eight. Riding cautiously, Toby successfully completed the stage in an incredible second place. Testament to the quality of the tire, and the repair made by the Australian, Price remains well in the hunt for the podium, lying second overall in the provisional standings.
Toby Price: “It’s been a really tough couple of days for me. I damaged my tire yesterday and of course, not being allowed to change it, I had to repair it as best I could for today and hope it held up. I rode a good stage, but all the while I was trying to be as smooth as possible – not accelerate too hard in case the issue got worse. Second on the day is not bad at all, I lost a little more time to the rally leader, but I’m just glad I got to the finish line.”
Following his solid performance and fourth fastest time on stage seven, Sam Sunderland soon found himself near the front of the pack on stage eight, having to carefully navigate his way around the mixed-terrain special. Despite losing a little time early on, which dropped him down the closely-fought leaderboard to 13th, Sam steadily fought his way back to ultimately complete the stage in fourth. Although not enjoying the best start position for Tuesday’s stage nine, Sunderland, lying third overall, will have the opportunity to chase down the two riders ahead of him in the provisional standings.
Sam Sunderland: “I’m just trying to take each day as it comes at the moment. My pace has been good over the two days of the marathon stage, but it’s certainly been tough. Riding about 1,600km on the same tires and wheels is pretty good going, although they are looking a little second hand now. The pace is so fast and at the same time you’re trying to look down at the road book and check your navigation – it’s not surprising you’re going to hit a rock now and again. I’m glad to get another day done and I’ll keep on doing my best and we’ll see where we are at the finish.”
Another top-10 stage result moves Matthias Walkner up to 21st in the overall standings. The Austrian, having aided teammate Price on the first leg of the marathon stage, was able to use his 17th place start position to great effect today – chasing down the leaders to finish in a strong eighth place, just six and a half minutes down.
Matthias Walkner: “It’s been two really challenging days for me and the whole team, but on the whole we’ve come out of it quite strong. Yesterday Toby caught me, but then I could see he had some tire issues and I stayed with him to the finish. Today was difficult for me because I started quite far back and spent most of the day on my own. It’s always difficult to judge your own pace when you have no reference. It was a beautiful stage today though, I really enjoyed the landscapes and now I have a good start position for tomorrow, so I’m looking forward to it.”
Suffering a nasty fall while cresting a dune on stage seven, Daniel Sanders required several stitches below his lip at the overnight bivouac. Although feeling tired and a little sore this morning, Sanders impressed once again with a superb ride that took him to seventh place on the stage. Safely inside the top 10 overall, the young Australian will now aim to get plenty of rest before Tuesday’s stage nine.
Daniel Sanders: “I struggled to focus a little today, I think I was a little tired from yesterday and the crash I had. Thankfully I didn’t have any major problems, I just tried to put in a solid ride through the stage. I’m glad I’m here at the finish near enough in one piece. Both me and the bike have certainly had a tough couple of days, but we’ll get fixed up now and look ahead to the rest of the race.”
Although relatively short at 579km, day nine at the 2021 Dakar Rally includes the second longest timed special of the event. With a grueling 465km to be raced against the clock, riders will start on the shore close to Neom before covering a looped stage to the north of the city. Predominantly made up of power-sapping sandy tracks and stony pistes, and due to its length, the stage looks set to rank as one of the toughest of the event.