Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s Sam Sunderland and Toby Price have enjoyed a hugely positive day of racing on stage seven of the 2021 Dakar Rally to finish fourth and seventh respectively.
Price now sits second overall in the provisional standings, just one second off the lead, with Sunderland in third and only two minutes further back. Claiming another top-five stage result, KTM Factory Racing’s Daniel Sanders moves into the overall top 10 in ninth.
Heading north from the rest day bivouac at Ha’il, stage seven of the 2021 Dakar Rally led riders to Sakaka. This first half of the event’s marathon stage will see riders sleep in a temporary camp before continuing with the second leg on Monday, stage eight.
Arriving at the bivouac, competitors are forbidden from receiving any outside mechanical assistance on their machines and must carry out maintenance and any needed repairs themselves. As such, bike preservation over the entire two-day challenge is extremely important.
With Sam Sunderland’s tactic of stringing together solid, consistent finishes paying off, the Brit has elevated himself to third in the general overall standings due in part to his excellent performance on stage seven. Racing much of the 453km special on his own, by concentrating on his navigation Sunderland gradually moved up the order as the stage progressed, ultimately claiming fourth at the line.
Sam Sunderland: “It has been quite a hectic stage today – really long and difficult to know where the others are and where you are in terms of time. All you can do is keep pushing, but you don’t really see anyone else out there for three or four hours. I relied on my own judgement today and it seemed to have paid off. Even when you see the tracks ahead in the sand you have to focus on the road book to make sure you’re not making the same mistake as the riders ahead. I’m happy with how things went today, feeling good and the bike’s in good shape so I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”
Toby Price made the most of his seventh-place start position by immediately chasing down his rivals in front to gain as much ground on them as possible. Leading on time for the majority of the special, a small issue in the final section ended up costing the Aussie a few minutes, but he was able to push on to the finish for seventh fastest. Despite losing the lead of the rally, Toby will be the seventh rider to start Monday’s second half of the marathon stage, giving him a superb opportunity to once again close in on the riders ahead.
Toby Price: “Everything went well today, I just tried to manage the stage as best as I could and not make any huge mistakes. It’s been a tough day but I’m happy with how things have gone, and it looks like we’re in good shape for tomorrow. Seven days done now, but still a fair few to go.”
2018 Dakar Champion Matthias Walkner rode a solid stage seven, choosing to maintain a safe, steady pace while minimizing any navigational errors. Matthias crossed the line as 17th quickest, but with times at the top being so close, his deficit to the leader was a mere 11 minutes. Continuing to fight back following his technical issue on stage two of the event, Walkner lies 24th.
Matthias Walkner: “That has been a tough day for me today, even the long liaison stage leading to the special was very cold and wet. The first 100km of the timed section looked more like the Netherlands with really sandy bumps and was very physical. After that, the sandy pistes were very fast, but there was a lot of hidden stones and so as well as focusing on your navigation, you had to take extra care not to hit a rock when you’re going really quickly. The whole day has been really tiring physically and mentally, but the bike is in good shape, so I’ll get some rest tonight and then hopefully another good day tomorrow.”
Continuing to impress, a third-place start position into today’s stage meant that rally rookie Daniel Sanders would soon be opening the special. Navigating well and soon passing the two riders ahead of him, the KTM 450 RALLY mounted junior delivered an excellent performance that kept him inside the top five for much of the stage. Even a crash over one of the dunes couldn’t slow the Aussie’s pace too much and Daniel crossed the line in an impressive fifth place.
Daniel Sanders: “I was having a pretty good day today until I had about 100km to go. I had been leading out a lot of the stage and was first to one big dune. I knew I had to turn left off the dune and go off-piste, but I managed to hit a rock hidden in the sand with my front wheel and it just threw me straight off. I was going pretty fast and I just flew off and went head-first into the dune. Ricky stopped, which was good of him, and after rolling around winded for a bit I was ok. I damaged the bike a little – bent the front wheel and bars, but it was ok. Luckily, I was able to charge on to the finish. I’ll go over the bike and try and straighten it out for tomorrow and then I might need to get a couple of stitches myself.”
The 709km second half of the marathon stage will see riders leave Sakaka and head to Neom to meet back up with their teams. Tricky navigation awaits the riders once more as they cover the sandy, then stony tracks of the 375km timed special.