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.