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 ( and Facebook page – daily updates on the Coca-Cola Nomadas Adventure team of Andrew Houlihan and Pablo Guillen.
  • Speedcafe ( – daily updates with a daily diary from Andrew Houlihan.
  • Motorcycle Life website ( and Facebook page – daily reports
  • The official Dakar website (
  • 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, 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

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 with the intention of bringing those old school journalistic ethics to a new digital medium.

The project became a massive success, and 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 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.

Sunday 19th January, 2020 – St Louis to Dakar

Andrew Houlihan has finished 21st outright in the gruelling 2020 Africa ECO Race.

He crossed the finish line at Lac Rose (Lake Retba – the Pink Lake) on the Coca-Cola Energy KTM 450 Factory Rallye late Sunday night Australian time.

The final stage from St Louis to Dakar was a short one, just 229km of liaison and a rapid 22km special followed by the final trip into Dakar itself.

The riders travelled the liaison stage to Niokhob, a fishing village on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, knowing that the beginning of the special stage was – well – very special and steeped in history.

Riders lined up on the beach for a traditional group start, creating scenes reminiscent of the early days of the original Paris-Dakar rally.

After racing down the beach beside the ocean, the riders turned inland and circled Lac Rose on their way to the famous podium beside the lake.

Andrew Houlihan on the finisher’s podium at the 2020 Africa ECO Race with New Zealand rider Edward Lines. Andrew finished the rally in 21st position.

The lake has spectacular pink waters caused by algae, and is also known for its high salt content – up to 40% in places.

As the traditional finishing place of the “Race to Dakar”, both the original Paris-Dakar and what we now know as the Africa ECO Race, the stunning scenery has always been a sign to weary competitors that the finish line is close and their dreams of riding to Dakar are about to be realised.

For the 2020 competitors it was the end of 12 very demanding but rewarding days of racing through Morocco, Western Sahara, Mauritania and finally Senegal.

Andrew entered this race with no expectations other than to finish safely, he has achieved that.

Despite losing so much time on stage 2 with fuel pump issues, and then having to deal with torturous conditions in the later stages, he has managed to finish every single stage, remain relatively uninjured and then finish just outside the top 20.

Andrew had not ridden the Coca-Cola Energy KTM 450 Factory Rallye bike before this event, and it took a few days to get used to the bike.

And in the last 3 days of the race Andrew says his right hand started to cramp badly and he could hardly hang onto the bike.

His strong finish in this event also shows that he has what it takes to compete successfully at an international level and fulfil his ultimate goal of racing in the Dakar Rally next year, to be held in Saudi Arabia in January 2021.

The Dakar Rally is certainly the most well known of all the desert rally raids, and is arguably the toughest event on the annual motorsport calendar.

But the Africa ECO Race captures the spirit of the original Paris-Dakar, and competing here has been an excellent preparation for Andrew’s crack at the Dakar next year.

Andrew describes the experience well:

“I had a couple of bad days and a few really good days.”

“Very little sleep for 12 days and just enough food to keep going each day. We saw the best and the worst on Northern Africa and it was an emotional and physical roller coaster.”

“Every day at some stage I would ask myself, why am I doing this.”

“There were some serious accidents, riders stuck in the dunes for 24 hours, bikes and cars breaking down, crazy African desert dwellers to contend with and many new friendships made.”

Andrew’s Coca-Cola Energy/Nomadas Adventure teammate, Pablo Guillen, had a good rally and was one of the few riders who gained positions on the final day.

Pablo picked up one place to finish 17th outright and second in the +450cc class.

The larger engine size of Pablo’s bike dictated that he ran in a different class to Andrew but still competed the same for outright honours.

Andrew’s final words today:

“I’m happy to finish in 21st position overall despite a couple of really bad days.”

“It’s time to get home to Katie and the kids, add some more titanium pins and screws to my body, recover and get ready for the next race!!!!!”

Saturday 18th January, 2020 – Idini to St Louis

Competitors in the 2020 Africa ECO Race have now crossed the border into Senegal on their journey to Dakar.

Whilst it was an easier stage with only a short 187km special stage, the African continent still threw up some serious challenges for the riders.

“The 280km liaison after today’s special stage from Mauritania to Senegal was extremely hard, we were in a sandstorm with shocking wind and horrendous tracks”, reports Coca-Cola Energy/Nomadas Adventure rider Andrew Houlihan.

“We have had dunes, sand, dunes and more sand and dunes for the last 3 days, more than you can possibly imagine, it has been extremely tough going with long stages.”

Over the last 3 days Andrew says he has backed off the pace a bit and been more cautious in the tough conditions just to make sure he makes the finish line in Dakar.

Andrew now sits just outside the top 20 in 21st place overall.

Apart from the terrain and the sandstorms, some bad cramping in his right hand has also made it difficult for him to hold on to the bike.

“I’ve dropped to 21st position overall I think but the whole goal of doing this was to get to the finish line in Dakar.”

Many riders will not make it to Dakar – of the 74 riders who started the event, just 61 are still officially competing. Many of those have dropped a lot of time after being stranded in sand dunes, lost in the desert or dealing with mechanical issues and injuries.

Stage 8 decimated the field and one of those who were stuck in the desert overnight was Nomadas Adventure rider Ashish Raorane.

Ashish had made a navigation error about 30 km in to the special which cost him time and fuel, he was out of water at the 175km point and eventually stuck in the sand and out of fuel before the CP3 refuelling stop. Ashish spent the night huddled by the bike in a rescue blanket and it was over 30 hours before he was safely into the bivouac.

But to even get to the finish line in an event like this, regardless of time or final position, is a major achievement and a challenge that most people could never contemplate taking on.

And such is the tenacity of these riders – Ashish will line up again today for the final stage into Dakar!

Despite the difficulties many of the riders have faced, and the serious crashes that have occurred, Andrew says the atmosphere in the bivouac is amazing.

Going into the final stage Andrew’s Coca-Cola Energy/Nomadas Adventure teammate Pablo Guillen is now 17th overall.

Fellow Australians Matt Sutherland and Peter Caldwell are 7th and 36th respectively.

In terms of outright placings, Italy’s Alessandro Botturi (Yamaha WR450F) goes into the final stage with a 3 minute 59 second lead over Norwegian rider Pal Anders Ullevalseter (KTM). That gap will be difficult to close in the short special stage, so barring major error or mechanical failure the Italian rider seems set to secure his second win.

Paolo Lucci (Husqvarna) is 40m:32s behind Botturi and in a safe position to secure 3rd overall.

Stage 12, the final stage, is a 300km day with a 229km liaison to Niokhob, a fishing village on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. Riders will line up on the beach for the start of the last special stage – a tradition that goes right back to the original Paris-Dakar rally. The final special is only short, just 22 km, and is followed by a 48km transfer stage to the podium on the banks of Lac Rose in Dakar.

You can follow the riders’ timings through checkpoints and waypoints, and follow their positions with live tracking.

  • #175 – Andrew Houlihan
  • #176 – Pablo Guillen
  • #102 – Matt Sutherland
  • #136 – Peter Caldwell

And there are daily video updates on Dreamracer TV – – and search for Monaco!

Coca-Cola Energy/Nomadas Adventure KTM riders Andrew Houlihan and Pablo Guillen
Friday 17th January, 2020 – Tidjikja to Idini

Stage 10 proved to be another very tough day for competitors and a mixed bag of results for the Coca-Cola Energy/Nomadas Adventure riders.

There was a heavy sandstorm all day making it difficult for riders to see, and several very bad crashes caused rally organisers to stop the stage at CP2. The decision was made because all helicopters were involved with rescuing injured riders.

Riders still needed to complete the 600km trip to the St Louis bivouac but results were taken from CP1.

Similar to what happened two days ago, many riders are still trying to get through the stage well into the night. At 11pm local time at least 15 bikes were still out in the stage.

Fellow Nomadas rider Ashish Raorane is one of the competitors who found himself stuck in the dunes on stage 8. He spent 13 hours in the dunes overnight and then another 17 in the valet truck to order to get out.

Andrew Houlihan dropped time and several places today finishing up 28th in the stage. That has also dropped him just outside the top 20 to 21st overall.

Andrew was struggling with some very bad cramping in his right hand during today’s stage, and had a heavy fall in the dunes.

And with easier days to come now he is in a good position to finish the event.

Pablo Guillen had a better day. A 15th on today’s stage moved him up to 17th overall.

He managed to set a good pace in the early part of the stage that ultimately counted towards today’s results.

Of the other Australians, Matt Sutherland (Lyndon Poskitt Racing KTM) is on his way to a top 10 finish while Peter Caldwell continues on strongly despite being well down the rankings.

Matt’s 9th placing today dropped him 1 place to 7th overall.

Peter Caldwell has been handed over of 15 hours in penalties throughout the rally, 8 hours and 45 minutes of that coming from stage 9 and presumably for navigation errors.

It’s a tough thing to even contemplate what could have been for Peter, but without the penalties he would be close to the top 20.

It gets easier from here!

Stage 11 will see the riders cross the border into Senegal as they approach the finish of the 2020 Africa ECO Race.

This stage has a 2km transfer to the start of a relatively short 187km special stage. The route will be relatively quick with some dune crossings but no major difficulties.

The last long liaison of the rally – 284km – will bring the riders into the bivouac on the old Saint Louis aerodrome.

St Louis is located in the north west of Senegal and situated near the mouth of the Senegal River.

You can follow the riders’ timings through checkpoints and waypoints, and follow their positions with live tracking.

  • #175 – Andrew Houlihan
  • #176 – Pablo Guillen
  • #102 – Matt Sutherland
  • #136 – Peter Caldwell

And there are daily video updates on Dreamracer TV – – and search for Monaco!

Thursday 16th January, 2020 – Tidjikja to Tidjikja

Andrew Houlihan has continued his climb back up the rankings in the 2020 Africa ECO Race with a 17th place in today’s 9th stage lifting him to 17th overall.

Fellow Coca-Cola Energy/Nomadas Adventure team rider Pablo Guillen finished today’s stage in 23rd which puts him 1 place behind Andrew in 18th outright.

Despite the brutality of the previous stage, 67 riders fronted the start line for stage 9.

Many riders did not reach the bivouac in Tidjikja at the end of stage 8 until the early hours of the morning, up to 16 hours behind the arrival of the first bikes. Two bikes are still showing as stranded in the dunes from the previous day.

Such is the tenacity of the people who take on these events.

Coca-Cola Energy/Nomadas Adventure team riders Andrew Houlihan and Pablo Guillen were 16th and 9th in the starting order for today’s stage, a 470km loop out through the dunes and back to the Tidjikja bivouac.

Andrew maintained a steady pace and travelled through the waypoints and checkpoints always in around 17th to 20th place.

It was a long, tough and tiring stage.

The expression says it all! Polish rider Artur Stasiaczek stuck deep in the sand.

Aussie Matt Sutherland (Lyndon Poskitt Racing KTM) has held on to his outright 6th place even after finishing today in 8th and dropping an hour to the stage winner, Husqvarna rider Paolo Lucci.

Lucci picked up a place today and sits 3rd, 40 minutes behind the rally leader, Italy’s Alessandro Botturi (Yamaha WR450F).

The third Australian in the rally, Peter Caldwell, continues on despite struggling in some of the recent stages. He is 41st overall.

We’re now getting towards the end of the rally with just 3 stages remaining. The 10th stage is a 600km day ending in Idini and has the longest special of the event – 400km.

There will be plenty of sand and dune crossings in the first half of the special, but rally organisers say that the last half will be fast with little navigation just big turns between the small dunes.

You can follow the riders’ timings through checkpoints and waypoints, and follow their positions with live tracking.

  • #175 – Andrew Houlihan
  • #176 – Pablo Guillen
  • #102 – Matt Sutherland
  • #136 – Peter Caldwell

And there are daily video updates on Dreamracer TV – – and search for Monaco!

Coca-Cola Energy/Nomadas KTM rider Pablo Guillen
Wednesday 15th January, 2020 – Aidzidine to Tidjikja

A brutal 8th stage of the 2020 Africa ECO Race has decimated the field, with many riders still out in the Mauritanian dunes well into the night.

More than 15 hours after they started the stage many competitors, including some cars and trucks, are still trying to make their way through the difficult dunes to the bivouac in Tidjikja.

Some will not make it before midnight, if at all.

The Coca-Cola Energy/Nomadas Adventure team of Andrew Houlihan and Pablo Guillen made it through the stage relatively unscathed.

Andrew finished the stage in 16th place which now moves him into 20th overall according to the latest updates we have.

Pablo rode extremely well through the tough dunes to finish 9th in the stage. That bumps him up to 17th place outright.

The strong performance today has now put both riders back in the top 20 after losing around an hour and a half on stage 2.

Andrew Houlihan described the stage as brutal.

“It was brutal. The sand and rocks were very bad, and the dunes were extremely difficult.”

“There are still many bikes not in. I slowed right down just to be safe.”

“I was buried both wheels deep about 3 times.”

The team’s success today came from setting a reasonable pace with clean navigation. “Although I was slower today my navigation was good.”

Many of the top riders have agreed that today was one of the most difficult stages they have tackled. It was a physically demanding stage, a long hard day in the soft Mauritanian sand.

And the riders still out there as we publish this story would have to agree as well.

The best placed Australian in the event, Matt Sutherland (KTM), finished 6th today and that was enough to move him up 3 places to 6th overall.

The other Australian rider, Peter Caldwell (KTM), struggled somewhat – 34th in the stage and now 6 places down to 23rd overall.

Stage 9 is a loop from the Tidjikja bivouac and back, the only loop stage in the 2020 event.

Organisers say it the most beautiful special stage of the rally and participants will be really spoiled by what they will see during the day. They say they have a little surprise which will only be revealed the day before!

And of course, there will be more sand!

After the initial sand and pebble section, the riders will negotiate a section that alternates between dunes and large open spaces. Towards the end of the stage is a long sandy climb between large narrow rocks.

You can follow the riders’ timings through checkpoints and waypoints, and follow their positions with live tracking.

  • #175 – Andrew Houlihan
  • #176 – Pablo Guillen
  • #102 – Matt Sutherland
  • #136 – Peter Caldwell