Following what he described as his ‘biggest learning curve’ in his young career, likeable Australian and multi time domestic and world enduro champion Daniel ‘Chucky’ Sanders has completed his rookie Dakar Rally campaign, bringing home his factory Red Bull KTM machine in an incredible fourth place.
The crown jewel of off-road racing began and finished in Jeddah for the 2021 event. Traversing over 15,000km of Saudi Arabian terrain, a multitude of different landscapes were encountered ranging from deep canyons to endless desert sand dunes, with riders reading their navigation systems while travelling up to 150km per hour.
After years of high level enduro racing, Sanders identified a want to further his career, and discussions with both KTM Australia and his management led him to the other side of the world, on the start line for Dakar with the coveted Factory Red Bull KTM squad.
‘After winning the ISDE (International six-day enduro), I was starting to look for something new; especially with the impact Covid had back home. Myself, KTM and my management discussed options, and it was either compete in the GNCC series in the United States, or make a start in rally racing,’ Sanders recounted.
‘Austria heard of my desire to compete in rally and put together a deal for me with KTM. Once the deal was done, I headed to Europe and the Middle East and trained for four months before lining up for this event.’
Two of the biggest differences for the enduro expat involved a totally new machine in a rally spec bike, along with having to navigate for yourself when out in the desert; something that cost him time early in the piece.
‘Usually, you go from a motocross bike to an enduro bike and its fairly easy to adapt. This was a totally new bike, so four months wasn’t a lot of time to become accustomed to it. Then you throw in navigation; you’re trying to read your road map while travelling at 150km/h, so that can have massive consequences,’ Sanders said.
For the 2021 event, there was no pressure put on the rookie by the team, as it was somewhat of a trial run to test whether this was a discipline he could fare well in. Despite the navigation issues, a couple crashes that resulted in stitches and even a bee sting, Sanders remarkably finished 38 minutes off seasoned veteran and Factory Honda rider Kevin Benavides.
‘Hopefully this puts me on the map for the future. I really enjoyed myself and am stoked to come away with fourth place on debut, I really believe it’s only upwards from here. With more practise and time on the bike I think we can accomplish good things,’ Sanders finished.
Racing one of the most prestigious races in the world requires an abundance of support, and Sanders maintains that it wouldn’t have been possible without KTM Factory Racing, Fox Racing Australia, Simford Welding, POD Active, Koda Nutrition, Melbourne Truck and Vans, Wild Company and Sanders Apples.
General classification: Bikes Top 5
Pos Rider Nat Make Time/Gap
1 Kevin Benavides. ARG. Honda. 47:18:14
2 Ricky Brabec. USA. Honda. +0:04:56
3 Sam Sunderland. GBR. KTM. +0:15:57
4 Daniel Sanders. AUS. KTM. +0:38:52
5 Skyler Howes. USA. KTM. +0:52:33