Dakar Rally hero Sam Sunderland will go straight back into action in the UAE Desert Championship next week as he looks to build on a career breakthrough in South America.
The third round of the UAE national rally series on Friday week (31 January) will be the Dubai-based 24-year-old rider’s first competitive outing since securing an historic maiden Dakar special stage victory in the legendary event in Argentina on 6 January.
Sunderland’s hugely impressive display was cut short two days later by engine failure, but his experience has added to belief that he can become a serious Dakar Rally contender in future years, while he is looking to mount a major bid in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge in April.
“It was a really good experience,” he said after a training stint at the DMX Motocross track in Jebel Ali. “Unfortunately it didn’t last long, but that’s racing, and there’s nothing you can do about it when something breaks.
“For the time being, I’m looking forward to the next round of the Desert Championship. Unfortunately, I ran out of fuel in the last round and so I’ll have to decide whether to use a rally bike or a motocross bike this time.
“It’s good preparation for the Desert Challenge, and I’m very lucky to have such a great base here in the UAE with the dunes, and the mountains towards the East coast. I’ve got everything I need here, and I just have to work hard to be successful. You don’t get anywhere in life without working hard.”
Organised by the Emirates Motor Sport Federation, with TAG Heuer Middle East as the official timekeeper and founding partner, the UAE Desert Championship is run with the support of the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE, the national motor sport authority.
ATCUAE President Mohammed Ben Sulayem, the FIA Vice President, said: “It was a great achievement by Sam to win a Dakar Rally stage, and I’m happy to see that he is supporting our national championship.
"The UAE has some of the finest terrain in the world for cross country rallies, and it’s good to see that we’re producing competitors who can compete with the best.”
With two of four rounds completed, Sean Gaugain leads the overall motorbikes class on a Kawasaki, while the quads class is topped by the other UAE-based Dakar Rally hero, Dutchman Sebastian Husseini, who won two stages in South America.
Driving a Polaris RZR XP, Emirati Ahmad Al Maqoodi leads both the overall cars and quads categories, with the final round of the Desert Championship to follow on February 14-15.
Full route details for Round three will be announced shortly to all competitors, and on the UAE Desert Championship Facebook page and www.emsf.ae.
The event provides Sunderland with a welcome opportunity to get quickly back into action after he joined “a relatively small list” of English riders to have won a Dakar Rally stage
.“The last was (the late) John Deacon about 15 years ago, and it’s nice to be part of a group like that,” said the HRC Honda Rally team rider.
Sunderland was forced to withdraw three days into the 2012 Dakar Rally and fractured both his wrists shortly before last year's edition. He was denied victory in last year’s Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge after a ten minute penalty for a basic technical infringement, eventually finishing third.
He now hopes a strong showing in the last two rounds of the UAE Desert Championship can set him up nicely for another crack at the Desert Challenge, which runs for the 24th time from 3-10 April.
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