Tag Archive for: 2022

Stage 2: Ha’il to Al Qaisumah

“We’re in a desert and it seems to rain every night!”

It was another early start in the freezing cold, it had rained during the night and there was cloud cover all day. 

“It seemed like nothing but sand and dunes and more sand today”, said Andrew Houlihan (#62 – KTM). “We were lucky the dunes were still damp from last night’s rain when we got to them.”

The route for Stage 2 of the 2022 Dakar Rally was changed because of flooding in the Al Artawiya bivouac, and the competitors headed straight to Al Qaisumah instead. That meant the cancellation of today’s marathon stage.

The morning threw up a decent serving of very fast and deep sandy tracks, and after refuelling an endless stretch of big dunes – a total of 780 km and 340 km of it was sand and dunes.

Navigation was fairly easy as there were tracks to follow.

“I was having a great ride until about 140 km into the stage when I went down hard in the sand at a high speed”, Andrew told us. “My airbag vest deployed and saved me from any serious injury.”

The fall delayed him for around 30 minutes while he fitted a new cylinder to the vest and regained his composure. Another rider then helped get the bike out of the sand.

Despite the fall he managed to pick up a few places today and now sits 112th overall and 83rd in the Rally 2 group.

Nomadas Adventure Coca-Cola teammate Pablo Guillen (#35 – KTM 450 Rally) had a good day and finished ahead of Andrew. He now sits 102nd overall.

It has been said that you can never make up time in the Dakar you can only lose it. You have to play it smart and wait for the rest of the field to come back to you. And if you’re consistent then you can almost guarantee the guys on front will eventually make a mistake and lose time.

And that’s exactly what happened to Daniel Sanders (#4 GasGas) today. After having dominated Stages 1A and 1B, a series of mistakes cost the Australian a massive amount of time and he finished the stage 38 minutes behind stage winner Joan Barreda Bort (#88 – Honda). He now sits 7th overall.

Fan favourite Danilo Petrucci (#90 – KTM) had the worst day you can imagine and is out of the rally. He had a mechanical failure on the KTM 115 km into the special and needed to be retrieved by the rally organisers.

And after all was sorted at the end of the stage, it was Sam Sunderland (#3 – GasGas) who came out on top. The GasGas rider now leads the rally from Adrien Van Beveren (#42 – Yamaha). 

Stage 3 is now a loop from Al Qaisumah and back, a 381 km liaison and 255 km special. The rain will have helped to pack the sand down, but the tracks will be less visible. It should be an interesting challenge!

Stage 1B: Ha’il to Ha’il

An early and cold start set the scene for a challenging day – out of bed at 4.30 am to a freezing cold and foggy morning. “It was still a bit wet as it rained all night”, says Andrew Houlihan.

The special stage of 333 km in the loop from Ha’il and back today threw some challenges to even the top riders. While Daniel Sanders (#4 GasGas) dominated the stage, Toby Price (#18 KTM) dropped to 22nd overall showing just how challenging it can be for even the best.

“Today was one of the hardest days I’ve ever done in the sand and dunes, there were a lot of very steep downhill dunes that were quite tricky.”

About 200 km into the special was an almost impossible pass over a small canyon, very steep with deep sand and massive boulders everywhere. There was carnage, with bikes scattered on every part of the track.

Andrew weaved his way up but about 2 metres from the top the bike flipped.

“I was able to push and throw the bike up the last rock ledge and watched it hit hard, fortunately there was no damage to the bike and only a little damage to my body”, Andrew told us later. “But from that point on I had some issues with pain and controlling the bike in the sand and dunes.”

But it was difficult navigation that was the biggest thing that threw the riders today. Many riders got lost and officials handed out plenty of time penalties, with some riders receiving up to a full hour added to their times.

Andrew was among a group of riders that spent close to an hour and a half trying to find the right track!

As a result, he has dropped a few places but still sits 98th in the Rally 2 group.

A refuelling stop today gave Toby Price (#18 KTM) a chance to drop in to see how Andrew and Nomadas Adventure Coca-Cola teammate Pablo Guillen (#35 – KTM 450 Rally) were travelling. But was he really looking for hints on that difficult navigation? Or was it a can of Coke he needed?

“Hey mate, I’ll swap you that can of Coke for TWO of my Red Bulls”

Daniel Sanders (#4 GasGas) lead all the way today, and has opened up a 2 minute gap over second placed Pablo Quintanilla (#7 Honda). Matthias Walkner (#52 KTM) is a further 6 minutes 24 seconds behind in 3rd overall.

Andrew leaves the bivouac on Stage 2 at 5:59 am, so another very early start.

Flooding in the Al Artawiya bivouac has caused a major change to the route for Stage 2 and the planned marathon stage.

The route now consists of a 183km liaison, 338km special and then another 270km liaison straight to Al Qaisumah which was the planned destination for Stage 3. Maximum temperatures are expected to be around  16°C but there is a strong possibility of rain!

Stage 1A: Jeddah to Ha’il

Dakar 2022 has begun, with today’s Prologue – otherwise known as Stage 1A – taking riders to Ha’il.

The route consisted of a 595 km liaison and a 19km special early in the stage, with the starting order being set by race number – in reverse order. That put the lead riders out last, with last year’s winner Kevin Benavides the final rider to leave.

Benavides has switched to KTM this year, taking the seat left by the departure of Daniel Sanders who moved to GasGas after last year’s rally.

With statements to be made and the starting order for the next stage to be determined, the lead riders set a cracking pace. However there’s a twist – the first 15 finishers who get to choose, in reverse order, their own starting position for Stage 1B.

Daniel Sanders (GasGas) has set the fastest time with a 1 minute gap back to second placed Pablo Quintanilla (Honda) and third fastest  Ross Branch (Yamaha) a further 55 seconds behind. Toby Price (KTM) put in the 8th fastest time.

Andrew Houlihan (KTM 450 RFR) has had a conservative day, happy to be placed back in 115th.

“It’s a long way to that finish line and there’s no point in going hard this early.”

His Nomadas Adventure Coca-Cola teammates are close by, Pablo Guillen is sitting 112th and Antonio Guillen Rivera is a bit further back.

This year there’s actually a fourth rider under the Nomadas banner as well, Greek rider Vasileios Boudros. He’s tracking pretty close to the “three amigos” in times and all 4 will be reasonably close on the stage.

There was only 20km of dunes today, and unfortunately the 2nd dune caught Andrew out and he had a small spill. No damage though.

This is the first ride for Andrew on the KTM 450 RFR in a while, COVID-19 having caused the cancellation of many events on Andrew’s 2021 race calendar. But he’s settled back very quickly. 

At this stage of the rally the strategy is to go one day at a time and at a steady pace. As happened last year, the field is expected to diminish as the days unfold. Consistency is the key and finishing each day is the goal.

Stage 1B is a loop from Ha’il and back to Ha’il, 514 km in total with a 333 km special. Yes, there will be sand, but the briefing also warns of “fiendish navigation puzzles”. Weather in Ha’il is forecast to be dry, partly cloudy with a maximum temperature of 16°C.

The road to the 2022 Dakar Rally has certainly been eventful for Australian rider Andrew Houlihan.

COVID-19 caused the cancellation of many events on Andrew’s 2021 race calendar, and a crash on a training ride earlier in the year resulted in some serious injuries and destroyed Andrew’s KTM 890 Rally training bike – one of only 700 in the world.

Even the trip to Saudi Arabia had its moments, with travel plans constantly changing as flights were cancelled because of the COVID outbreak in Europe.

Andrew left Australia in mid December with his wife Katie and headed firstly to Spain to meet up with teammate Pablo Guillen. From there they headed to Greece to spend time with some of the people who supported them during Andrew’s recovery from an incident in the 2018 Hellas Rally. And then it was off to Switzerland to spend Christmas with the rest of the team before departing for Saudi Arabia.

Now settled into the bivouac in Jeddah, it’s time to focus on the mammoth event ahead.

He’s reacquainted himself with his KTM 450 Rally Factory Replica, and done his first shakedown ahead of Stage 1A of the 2022 Dakar Rally on Saturday (local time).

Stage 1A takes competitors from Jeddah to Hail and consists of a 595 km liaison and a 19 km special. This format is a little different to last year and replaces the Prologue we’re used to seeing.

And then it gets serious!

During 12 gruelling stages riders will cover over 12,000km – 4,240 km of which are specials – through some of the toughest terrain in the world. And the promise this year – sand, sand and even more sand!!!

Competing in the Dakar Rally requires immense physical and mental fitness, high levels of strategic thinking and planning, and an ability to read roadbooks and navigate far better than most people could ever imagine. Oh yes – you obviously need to be able to ride fast for long periods and have an understanding of motorcycle dynamics that mere mortals will never have.

This is Andrew Houlihan’s (#62 – KTM 450 Rally Factory Replica) second Dakar and he is once again riding with long term teammate Pablo Guillen (#35 – KTM 450 Rally) from Mexico. This year their Nomadas Adventure Coca-Cola Racing Team has expanded to include another Mexican – Antonio Vicente Guillen Rivera (#111 – KTM 500 EXC-F). Are Pablo and Antonio related? You bet! 🙂

Andrew Houlihan #62, Antonio Gullen #111, and Pablo Guillen #35

Greek rider Vasileios Boudros (#147 – Husqvarna 450 Rally) is also riding under the Nomadas Adventure banner. 

Andrew goes into the 2022 Dakar Rally grateful for the backing from his many loyal sponsors and supporters – Speedcafe.com; Motorcycle Life; Alistair NicollLink Fire Australia; Milton WalshShaun Walsh Earthmoving; Coca-Cola; Brian Bayley; Ian McKinley; Kriega Australia; Aurora Rally Equipment; Daniel Verbaan; Performance+ Nutrition & Training; Fuel Torque; Adventure Gear Online; Buzz’s Bikes & Bits; Fist Handwear; Whitefang Hurley; Dakar Games; Cameron Jones; Firetail Robotics; Scott Britnell – Go Ride It; Goldentyre Australia; MOTO KIT; Future-Sport Motorcycles; Rapid Bike Australia; and Rally Spec.