Wadi Ad-Dawasir, Saudi Arabia – 04/01/2021

It was an early start for the Coca-Cola Nomadas Adventure team this morning with a wake up call at 4:30 am. But that becomes pretty normal during a Dakar – Andrew had a start time of 6:05 am.

Rally organisers had said that riders would spend most of their time in sand today and have their first encounter with the famous Saudi Arabian dunes.

So it wasn’t surprising that riders were straight into dunes about 100m high just 5 km into the special stage. Andrew found himself stuck twice on the top of a dune but was able to push over the top and only lost about 30 seconds on each.

“The second lot of dunes later in the day were bigger but I seemed to glide over them without much trouble”, Andrew said at the end of the day. 

The sand was endless all through the special, and if it wasn’t dunes it was soft spongy flat sand that wouldn’t allow the bike to get over 140km/h.

He managed to maintain a consistent pace throughout the day, finishing the stage and 67th position.

However he missed a waypoint before CP3.

“I realised about a kilometre on and wanted to back track. It was a narrow track and officials said it was too dangerous as trucks were starting to come through”, Andrew told the team. 

“Do you want the time or death”, they said to me.

“Thinking back to the crash in Hellas 2018 I decided taking on a truck was not worth the risk.”

“I’m here to finish, not break records or bones.”

Andrew received a five minute penalty as a result of missing the waypoint.

He now sits in 68th position overall.

Andrew said his KTM 450RFR didn’t miss a beat all day, and seem to have less issues dealing with other competitors.

“Only about 10 cars and 4 trucks passed me all day but they sure left their mark, I have a nice bruise on my right arm from a rock!”

Andrew’s teammate Pablo Guillen also had a good day.

Despite dropping some time early in the stage, Pablo worked his way back to finish 63rd in the stage.

In terms of overall standings, Pablo is sitting 63rd. Yes, that does just happen to match with his position at the end of the second stage!

After a long day in the sand Andrew arrived at the bivouac at about 4:30 pm feeling remarkably fresh. The temperatures have been kind to the competitors so far, minimums of 10° and highs of around 25°.

Andrew’s fellow Australian competitors had mixed days.

Red Bull KTM rider Toby Price finished the day 32 minutes behind stage winner and now overall leader Joan Barreda after having fuel issues. He is now down in 15th position overall but says he isn’t too concerned by that at this stage of the event.

KTM factory rider Daniel Sanders is sitting in 18th position just 21 minutes and 11 seconds down.

And in his first ever Dakar Rally, Michael Burgess is sitting in 42nd position.

Stage 3 takes riders on a loop starting and finishing in Wadi Ad-Dawasir, with a 403km special stage.

Riders leave Bisha today heading to Wadi Ad-Dawasir, a town in the Dawasir valley and the homeland of the tribe of Al-Dawasir. It has a population of around 120,000 people.

Today’s riding consists of a 135km liaison followed by a 457km special stage with four checkpoints, and finally a 93km final liaison segment into Wadi Ad-Dawasir.

Fuel stops are positioned at checkpoints 1 and 2, and at the end of the special stage.

Rally organisers have told the riders that around 80% of today’s stage is sand, and to expect strong winds from CP1 to the end of the special stage. The wind is expected to make the sandy sections softer and the tracks less visible.

Competitors will also experience the famous Saudi Arabian sand dunes for the first time this year. Around 15% of the special stage is sand dunes, not the biggest they will encounter but still of a reasonable height.

Coca-Cola Nomadas Adventure rider Pablo Guillen (#35 – KTM 450RFR) received a one minute penalty yesterday for exceeding the speed limit in the liaison stage, but it didn’t have a serious impact on his positioning in the field. His start time today is 6:03:30 am.

Andrew Houlihan (#62 – KTM 450RFR) starts today at 6:05 am.

There has already been at least 5 retirements from the rally and 96 riders are expected to start today stage.

French rider Erick Blandin has had to retire from his maiden Dakar after a nasty crash 204km into yesterday’s first stage.

Willy Jobard, who was racing on a hybrid hydrogen-powered motorbike, hurt his left hip in a crash after 93km. Sadly the veteran biker has had to withdraw from the Dakar for the fifth year in a row.

And Colombian rider Jhon Trejos withdrew after hurting his right wrist in a crash at the 98km mark.

Frenchman Xavier Flick (Husqvarna), who crashed and hurt his leg yesterday has been able to continue in the rally.

You can follow Andrew and Pablo’s progress live here (https://gaps.dakar.com/2021/dakar/aso/ukie).

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%?

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.

After yesterday’s Prologue, Coca-Cola Nomadas rider Andrew Houlihan (#62 – KTM 450 RFR) will start from 97th position at 5:52am local time (1:58pm AEDT).

His team mate Pablo Guillen (#35 – KTM 450 RFR) will start 14 minutes earlier at 5.38am.

You can follow Andrew and Pablo’s progress live here.

Jeddah, Saudi Arabia – 02/01/2021

An electrical glitch on Andrew’s KTM 450RFR has caused him to miss registering 2 waypoints during the prologue stage (Stage 0) of the 2021 Dakar Rally, and the resulting penalty has dropped him down the results.

Andrew went into the prologue feeling confident after a reasonable run in the shakedown the day before, but on the start line the power supply to the navigation and tracking systems failed for a second and then came good again.

He started the stage but the power failed again, however this time it didn’t return. He stopped briefly to check and decided to continue without the navigation systems since the special stage was only 11km long and the track seemed easy to follow.

He came in 74th in the initial results.

But Andrew had failed to register 2 waypoints because of the power failure to the tracking device, and received a penalty that dropped him to 97th place.

Despite it being a disappointing start to the event, finding the issue in the short prologue was far better than it occurring in tomorrow’s much longer and tougher stage.

“We didn’t get a chance to have a decent shakedown and test the bike thoroughly, but we’d found a few small issues and Jakob, my Swiss KTM mechanic, had done a great job setting the bike up last night.We just didn’t know about this one!””

“So today was good to sort out the problems.”

Andrew says he is feeling more positive now the ERTF is wired correctly and working.

With over 4,800 km of special stages to come over 12 days of competition, placings are not a major concern at this stage. What the prologue did show is that Andrew has good pace.

Andrew was very surprised by the deepness of the sand around Jeddah, and said that so far it was very similar riding conditions to what he has experienced in Australia.

Stage 1 will take the riders from Jeddah to Bisha. There is a 311km liaison, 276km special stage with 3 checkpoints, and finally a 35km trip into the bivouac.

 

 

The 2021 Dakar Rally is under way!

Motorcycle competitors began the short Prologue (Stage 0), consisting of 120km of liaison and 11km of special stage, around 10am local Saudi time today.

Four Australians are competing in the 2021 Dakar rally – KTM factory rider Toby Price (#3) with his teammate Daniel Sanders (#21), Michael Burgess (#80) and of course Andrew Houlihan (#62).

Andrew is once again competing for the Coca-Cola Nomadas Adventure team alongside long-term teammate Pablo Guillen.

Apart from Toby Price, who won the event in 2016 and 2019, all the other Australians are rookies in the Dakar.

Here’s where you can stay up to date during the event:

  • Road to Dakar 2021 website (roadtodakar.com.au) and Facebook page – daily updates on the Coca-Cola Nomadas Adventure team of Andrew Houlihan and Pablo Guillen.
  • Speedcafe (speedcafe.com) – daily updates with a daily diary from Andrew Houlihan.
  • Motorcycle Life website (motorcyclelife.com.au) and Facebook page – daily reports
  • The official Dakar website (dakar.com)
  • For Australian followers SBS TV will run a 30 minute highlights program daily at 5:30 pm local time (check your local TV Guide)
  • For followers in other countries, there are around 190 TV networks providing coverage of this year’s event, please check your local guides.

The 2021 Dakar Rally will take competitors through 4,800 km of special stages over 12 stages, all on tracks never seen in last year’s event.

This year also sees the return of some of the classic vehicles that forged the Dakar legend in a special parallel event – The Dakar Classic.

Highly regarded media icon Brett “Crusher” Murray is the latest in a respectable line of people who have thrown their support behind 2021 Dakar Rally entrant Andrew Houlihan.

Brett, who owns Gold Coast based BAM Group and speedcafe.com, has promoted and breathed life into iconic events including the Gold Coast Marathon, Australian Open Golf Tournament and the Gold Coast 600 Supercars event.

After moving to the Queensland Gold Coast in 1989, Brett started BAM Media. Using the skills and knowledge he developed while working in newspapers, Brett and his team have grown BAM Group – as it is now known – into a highly respected media outlet with an impressive client list.

But it was “Crusher’s” love of motorsport that was always going to drive him even further, and in 2009 he launched speedcafe.com.

Brett already had a long running involvement in motorsport and was recognised as a passionate authority around the paddocks. In fact, he has been a guiding influence with the Gold Coast 600 for over 20 years now.

He has also run his own car in the Indianapolis 500, and hired Sir Jack Brabham’s grandson Matt Brabham to drive it!

But he recognised there was a gap in the online media world and started speedcafe.com with the intention of bringing those old school journalistic ethics to a new digital medium.

The project became a massive success, and speedcafe.com is now the largest and most trusted independent motorsport news website in the world.

Albury based Andrew Houlihan, one of only 4 Australian riders competing in the 2021 Dakar Rally, believes Brett’s “can-do” attitude and extensive experience will be a great asset during the event.

“The Dakar Rally is already one of the toughest events in the world, but it’s been a very different build up to the 2021 event while we’ve been dealing with situations we have never seen before in the world.”

“So having Brett’s support and being able to draw on his knowledge and skills is going to be a great help. I’m really excited to have him onboard.”

Brett Murray joins a group of very dedicated supporters that have all helped Andrew achieve his dream of competing in the Dakar.

“I’m really grateful for the sponsorship from speedcafe.com and also for the many other organisations who have all thrown their support behind me in their own way to make this event possible for us.”

The 2021 Dakar Rally will be held in Saudi Arabia from the 3rd to 15th January. Andrew Houlihan will be joined by fellow Australians Michael Burgess, and KTM Factory riders Daniel Sandler and Toby Price.

It’s official – Andrew Houlihan is going to the Dakar Rally in 2021.

It’s been a long and uncertain journey (a bit like the Dakar Rally itself) over the last 6 months as we navigated our way through COVID-19 restrictions and the limitations placed on both domestic and international travel.

But Andrew has now been granted a travel exemption by the Australian Government that will allow him to leave Australia in early December and travel to Saudi Arabia for the event.

It was the last piece that needed to fall into place to allow the Albury based rider to fulfil his dream of competing in the toughest off road event in the world.

Andrew’s entry was accepted by rally organisers in May, but the uncertainty caused by the impact of COVID-19 meant that it was only in the last week that Andrew received approval to travel.

So it’s game on!

Despite the uncertainty that he would make it to the event, Andrew has quietly been preparing anyway.

He will compete on a new 2020 model KTM 450 Rally Factory Replica he has been preparing in his workshop in Albury.

Each week Andrew has been clocking up an average of 2-3,000 km on the new bike, including night riding and navigation training provided by his race team.

And while travel restrictions have prevented him from competing since finishing 21st in the Africa ECO Race last January, he has also been able to undergo several operations to repair damage to his ankle and thumb sustained in a major crash during the Hellas Rally in Greece in 2018.

Local daredevil Andrew Houlihan is preparing for the ride of his life in what is arguably the most deadly sporting even on the planet.

Local daredevil Andrew Houlihan is preparing for the ride of his life in what is arguably the most deadly sporting even on the planet.

Posted by PRIME7 News Border on Thursday, September 10, 2020

The Dakar Rally is recognised as one of the toughest motorsport events in the world, and is second only to Formula 1 in terms of popularity and worldwide coverage.

The 2021 event begins on the 3rd January and runs for 12 days. Competitors will cover a distance in excess of 7,500 km through a variety of terrain – and there’s always plenty of sand!

Entry to the event is only open to those who have a proven record in off-road rally raid events. The event organiser, ASO (Amaury Sport Organisation), has very strict entry requirements to ensure only the best riders and drivers in the world are allowed to compete.

Andrew has dedicated the past 2 years to preparing for the Dakar Rally by racing in qualifying events throughout Europe and Africa as part of the Nomadas Adventure Rally team based in Switzerland.

He is supported in the 2021 Dakar by a number of Australian businesses and by Coca-Cola Energy.

Through all the recent uncertainty Andrew’s commitment to his dream has won through, and he is on his way to Dakar!

It could have been a tragedy ….

It was 1977 and French motorcycle racer, Thierry Sabine, found himself hopelessly lost in the Ténéré Desert during the Abidjan-Nice rally.

Having misplaced his compass and strayed from the course he struggled to find his way in a 400,000 square kilometre section of the Sahara that stretches from north-eastern Niger and into western Chad.

Sabine spent three days stranded before being found and rescued by rally organiser, Jean-Claude Bertrand.

Bertrand is considered to be the founder of rally raids – long distance off-road races held over several days – and he had a reputation for making them tough.

He wanted to give a “once in a lifetime experience” to his competitors and create a sense of spirit amongst them. His brief to them was simple – “…you have to help each other, if you don’t you won’t make it.”

Bertrand created the Bandama Rally which still runs today. One year it was so tough that not a single competitor finished the event.

Next came the Abidjan-Nice rally. The first edition started on 25th December 1975 and ended in France on 11th January 1976.

True to his reputation, it was tough. The leg from Abidjan on the Ivory Coast of West Africa to Niamey in Niger was over 1,700 kilometres and competitors had to complete the “day” in less than 31 hours.

It was in the second edition of the event that things went horribly wrong for Thierry Sabine.

Defeated but inspired by what he saw in the desert, he returned to France with the desire to share the immensity of the landscape with as many people as possible.

Jean-Claude Bertrand had his own vision to organise a race on each of 5 continents and had given Thierry Sabine a job to assist him while he travelled to Central and South America to map out his second major race.

And independently from Bertand, Sabine created his own event – the Paris-Dakar Rally. The first edition started from the Place du Trocadéro in Paris on the 26th December 1978.

The route took competitors to Algiers before they crossed through Agadez in Niger, and then on to the finish line besides Lac Rose (Lake Retba, the “Pink Lake”) in Dakar the capital of Senegal.

The Dakar Rally, as it is now known, has been held every year since that first event in 1978 with one exception in 2008. It has been held in Africa, South America and now Saudi Arabia.

After more than 40 years of competition the rally still creates the same sense of comradery amongst its competitors as the first events. And Sabine’s motto – “A challenge for those who go. A dream for those who stay behind.” – still stands.

Sadly we lost Thierry Sabine in a helicopter crash in 1986, but his legacy lives on.

Getting lost in the desert in 1977 could have been a tragedy indeed, but it was the inspiration to create the biggest and most well known off-road motorsport event in the world – the Dakar Rally.

Mexican rider Pablo Guillen has once again shown that he is a serious contender in desert rallies after claiming 4th place in the opening stage of the 2020 Sonora Rally in Mexico.

Pablo, of course, is the Coca-Cola Energy/Nomadas Adventure teammate of Albury international Andrew Houlihan.

The two riders competed together in the 2020 Africa ECO Race – where Pablo finished 17th outright and second in the +450cc class. Andrew and Pablo will be racing together again later in the year as they both prepare for the 2021 Dakar Rally.

Riding an Husqvarna TE 500, Pablo finished the 228km first stage just 8 minutes and 10 seconds behind 2020 Dakar winner Ricky Brabec, and just under 4 minutes ahead of Australian Matthew Sutherland who finished the stage in 6th place.

Both Brabec and Sutherland are skilled racers and well experienced in the Dakar Rally, so Pablo’s placing is a strong indication of his ever-developing skills and progress towards the Dakar Rally in January 2021.

Day 2 brought mixed fortunes for many riders. Ricky Brabec took the stage win, Matt Sutherland dropped to 32nd overall after engine failure and despite losing some time during the stage, Pablo remains 13th overall and 10th in his class out of the 43 motorcycle competitors.

Pablo is also currently 4th in the “Road To Dakar” category.

Held over a series of events this year, this classification is open to all competitors who have currently not competed in the Dakar Rally. The winner will be given free entry and the coveted title of the first official competitor of the 2021 Dakar Rally.

The 5 day Sonora Rally is held in the state of Sonora, Mexico’s second largest state. With a sparse population, diverse economy and a spectacular mountainous and arid landscape, Sonora gives competitors the perfect environment for a true Dakar style adventure. Starting in the state’s capital Hermosillo, the rally travels through a number of municipalities before ending in San Luis Rio Colorado, a burgeoning manufacturing centre and the gateway to the Colorado River Delta, on Friday 20th March.