Dakar: A superb start for Sam Sunderland in the bikes (VIDEO)

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It wasn’t a bad way to make a debut for the Dakar Rally’s dominant team in the motorcycle category.

British rider Sam Sunderland, the newcomer on a KTM factory squad that boasts reigning Dakar champ Marc Coma, picked up an opening stage win in the run from Buenos Aires to Villa Carlos Paz, Argentina.

Sunderland has dealt with numerous instances of bad luck in the Dakar. In 2012, an electrical problem forced him out early. A pair of broken wrists kept him from racing in 2013. And last year, after winning the second stage for Honda’s Team HRC, he bowed out the next day with an engine failure.

In his Dakar experiences so far, he’s never gone beyond the fourth day of competition. Is his win today a sign that his luck will finally change with KTM, which is seeking its 14th consecutive win in the event? Time will tell, and in the meantime, Sunderland is keeping a big-picture approach.

“It’s difficult to judge your strategy based on the first day, because you still don’t know who’s pulled out all the stops,” he said on Sunday. “It’s also important not to go all in, you’ve got to leave something for the other stages…However, I think I had a good special [stage] and that’s always a reason to be happy.

“The bike didn’t miss a beat, it was very fast and I probably posted a good time. I’m a contender… for the first day. I hope I’m also a contender at the end, but we’ve only covered 175 kilometers and there’s still a long road before us.”

Chasing Sunderland early on is HRC’s Paulo Goncalves, who sits five seconds behind the Brit after a runner-up performance. Goncalves said he would have pushed a bit harder if he had known he was only a little bit behind Sunderland, but he was pleased nonetheless.

“We’ve got a long stage coming tomorrow and we’ll be racing up front,” said Goncalves, who like Sunderland was also knocked out early in last year’s Dakar. “For me, what’s important is to stay on my bike and avoiding the problems that plagued me in the previous year.

“I hope I won’t run into trouble and to finish the race in a decent position. I really want to help Honda win the Dakar. They’ve worked their socks off to put this amazing bike together, and I hope I can give something back to them by doing my bit for a Dakar victory.”

Following them in third was Coma at more than a minute behind Sunderland. HRC’s Joan Barreda, who fought Coma for supremacy over much of last year’s event, opened his 2015 edition in fourth, and Sherco’s Alain Duclos, a 2014 stage winner, sits fifth.

Said Coma of the opening day: “I felt good. It was quite an easy, fast stage, a very fast one. Avoiding mistakes was obviously very important. The start’s always risky business because you want to push hard and open up gaps. The stage was awesome. Rain over the last few days made certain spots muddy or wet, but nothing too difficult.”

2015 Dakar Rally – Motorcycle Standings
(After Stage One)
1. 6-Sam Sunderland (KTM), Leader
2. 7-Paulo Goncalves (Honda), + 0:05
3. 1-Marc Coma (KTM), + 1:12
4. 2-Joan Barreda (Honda), + 1:41
5. 14-Alain Duclos (Sherco), + 2:08
6. 12-Jeremias Israel (Honda), + 2:16
7. 9-David Casteu (KTM), + 2:36
8. 27-Matthias Walkner (KTM), + 2:42
9. 31-Pablo Quintanilla (KTM), + 2:58
10. 11-Ruben Faria (KTM), + 3:02

Coverage of the 2015 Dakar Rally starts Monday afternoon on NBCSN. Get your full Dakar TV schedule here.

Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

Helio Castroneves IMSA IndyCar
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As his season gathers steam, Helio Castroneves said his prospects for finding new rides for 2021 in IMSA and IndyCar also are gaining momentum.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said Monday he is optimistic about landing in either or perhaps a combination of both series when Team Penske and Acura end their DPi partnership after this season.

“A lot of people I spoke with, four to five teams, are interested,” Castroneves said. “Whether it’s doing Indy 500 only, whether it’s pushing to do full time or do the sports cars as well. It’s been a very nice conversation.

LOOKING AHEADTeam Penske drivers seeking new rides for 2021

“I have a lot of respect for all the teams that have been talking, and I feel the same feedback. We just have to wait for their (sponsor) connections, and I’m also looking for some connections on my side as well, so hopefully we’ll be able to put this together and get something very soon.”

Given two decades of success with Penske in IndyCar and IMSA, Castroneves’ resume hardly needs burnishing. But the Brazilian has combined with co-driver Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura DPi to win the past two overall victories at Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

But Castroneves, who doesn’t have a manager, said he has been working the phones hard rather than wait for the strong results to bring in the calls.

“At this point, I feel like I’m the one who needs to be talking to them because people need to know I want to continue racing and understand my desire,” Castroneves, 45, said. “There is opportunity, no question, in both (IndyCar and IMSA), which I’m really happy about it. However, because of the COVID-19, a lot of things sometimes have to be a little delayed. But I’m excited. Whatever the opportunity and whatever destiny guides me, whether IndyCar or sports cars, trust me I’ll be as happy as it could be and doing my 100 percent like I always did.

“It’s like politics, you need to be out there, good news or bad news. People have to make notice of your presence. I’m hustling. I want to continue to keep it going. Hopefully, we’ll have good news very soon.”

The news has been all good lately on track for Castroneves and Taylor, who hope to continue their run Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The No. 6 duo has surged to sixth in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship standings, 10 points out of the lead with four races remaining. After thinking there was “no hope” to be competitive after opening the season with three consecutive poor finishes, Taylor now sees an opportunity for a happy ending.

“With the program going away, Helio has won all the big races and given so much back to the team and left such a mark, he’s really part of Penske history,” Taylor said. “For me, it’s been an opportunity of a lifetime to be a part of it. I’d like to leave my little mark as well. Helio has won everything except for a championship.

“Obviously, we’ve won races already together, but we can win a championship now. I think if both of us can do that together and both win our first championship for ‘The Captain,’ that would be an absolute dream come true, and we can tie a bow on it and be happy.”