Bisha, Saudi Arabia – 03/01/2021
Andrew Houlihan has bounced back from yesterday’s issues to finish Stage 1 of the 2021 Dakar Rally in 68th place overall.
The electrical glitch that shut down power to the navigation and tracking systems on Andrew’s Coca-Cola Nomadas Adventure KTM 450RFR yesterday scored him a five minute penalty, meaning that he started today’s stage from 97th position.
But with a steady pace and clean navigation, Andrew was able to work his way up through the field, picking up almost 30 places by the end of the special stage.
With yesterday’s electrical issues resolved, the bike ran very well today without fault.
The 311km of liaison was all bitumen, a bit fresh at the start but basically easy-going.Once the riders were into the special stage they encountered some very heavy rocky sections.
In the stage briefing, riders were told that only about 3% of the special stage was rocky sections.
But Andrew reckons they put the decimal point in the wrong place – he says it felt more like about 30% of extreme rocks!
“At some points I could only go walking speed and when the cars started flying past the shower of rocks and dust was insane”, Andrew said.
“And passing quad bikes is also difficult because they spit out a phenomenal amount of dust and rocks.”
Andrew’s approach has been ‘safety first’, choosing to stop and wait when the dust got too bad.
He said he only had one small off for the day with no damage to himself for the bike, and one small navigation error when he went against his own rule of not following others.
“I was in thick dust and couldn’t see, and then a Red Bull car went roaring past me down this river bed.”
“So I thought, ‘the Red Bull guys must know where they’re going’. But no!”
“The next thing I saw was the Red Bull car coming back at me, so I headed for the bushes!”
The biggest damage from the day seems to be his pristine Coca-Cola/Nomadas Adventure jersey which ended up ripped to shreds from the sharp prickles.
After a long, dusty and rocky day with over 10 hours in the saddle, Andrew at first felt he’d a rough day until the team told him he picked up nearly 30 places.
So maybe not a bad day after all!
Andrew’s teammate Pablo Guillen also had a good day completing Stage 1 in 65th position.
The other Australians in the rally have had a mixed day.
Toby Price has taken the stage win and the overall lead in the rally.
Despite picking up at seven minute penalty for apparently speeding in a controlled zone, Daniel Sanders is 25th overall.
And Michael Burgess, who also scored himself a five minute penalty, is currently in 35th place.
Stage 2 has a 228km liaison and 457km special stage ending in Wadi Ad-Dawasir, and riders will experience the famous Saudi Arabian sand dunes for the first time.
The briefing said the special stage is 80% sand, but based on yesterday does that mean only 8%?