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.

Starting lineup grid for IMSA Petit Le Mans: Tom Blomqvist puts MSR on pole position

Petit Le Mans lineup
IMSA
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IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar championship contender Tom Blomqvist put the Meyer Shank Racing Acura at the front of the starting lineup for the Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Road Atlanta.

Blomqvist turned a 1-minute, 8.55-second lap on the 2.54-mile circuit Friday to capture his third pole position for MSR this season. Earl Bamber qualified second in the No. 02 Cadillac for Chip Ganassi Racing.

Ricky Taylor was third in the No. 10 Acura of Wayne Taylor Racing, which enters Saturday’s season finale with a 19-point lead over the No. 60 of Blomqvist and Oliver Jarvis (who will be joined by Helio Castroneves) for the 10-hour race.

PETIT LE MANS STARTING GRID: Click here for the starting lineup l Lineup by car number

PETIT LE MANS: Info on how to watch

With the pole, MSR sliced the deficit to 14 points behind WTR, which will field the trio of Taylor, Filipe Albuquerque and Brendon Hartley in Saturday’s race.

“We really needed to put the car in this kind of position,” Blomqvist said. “It makes our life a little less stressful tomorrow. It would have given the No. 10 a bit more breathing space. It’s going to be a proper dogfight tomorrow. The guys gave me such a great car. It’s been fantastic this week so far, and it really came alive. I’m hugely thankful to the boys and girls at MSR for giving me the wagon today to execute my job.

“That was a big effort from me. I knew how important it was. It’s just awesome for the guys to give them some sort of reward as well. It’s always nice to be quick. If you do the pole, you know you’ve got a quick car.”

Though WTR has a series-leading four victories with the No. 10, MSR won the Rolex 24 at Daytona and has five runner-up finishes along with its three poles.

The strong performances of the ARX-05s ensure that an Acura will win the final championship in IMSA’s premier Daytona Prototype international (DPi) division, which is being rebranded as Grand Touring Prototype in the move to LMDh cars next season.

Taylor qualified third despite sliding into the Turn 5 gravel during the closing minutes of qualifying while pushing to gain points.

“Qualifying was important for points,” Taylor said. “Going into it, if we outqualified the No. 60 Meyer Shank Acura, they had a lot to lose in terms of championship points. So, we were trying to increase the gap over 20 points which would’ve made a big difference for tomorrow. We would have loved to get the pole and qualify ahead of the No. 60, but in the scheme of the points, it didn’t change a whole lot. I’m feeling good since it’s such a long race, and the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura team does such a good job strategizing and putting us in a good position.

“I’m very confident in our lineup and our team compared to them over the course of 10 hours. I’d put my two teammates up against those guys any day. I think we are all feeling optimistic and strong for tomorrow.”

In other divisions, PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports (LMP2), Riley Motorsports (LMP3), VasserSullivan (GTD Pro) and Paul Miller Racing (GTD) captured pole positions.

The broadcast of the 10-hour race will begin Saturday at 12:10 p.m. ET on NBC, moving at 3 p.m. to USA Network.


QUALIFYING

Results

Results by class

Fastest lap by driver

Fastest lap by driver after qualifying

Fastest lap by driver and class after qualifying

Fastest lap sequence in qualifying

Best sector times in qualifying

Time cards in qualifying

PRACTICE RESULTS: Session I l Session II l Session III