Sunderland, Price and Sanz explain perils of navigation while speeding in the sand

The Dakar Rally is not known as the world’s toughest motorsport race for nothing, especially for the bike riders who must navigate the tricky terrain on their own.

Former bike winners Sam Sunderland and Toby Price have both held their nerve over two weeks in South America the past two years for gutsy victories, while Spaniard Laia Sanz finished ninth overall in 2015.

With many of the other categories able to draw upon the navigational wisdom of co-pilots, the bike riders have to switch seamlessly between their roadbook and terrain ahead to get from A to B over the long, daily stages.

Reigning champion Sunderland from Britain revealed, “The organisers are quite secretive of the route with people pre running it in the past. The first week is tough. Try not to make any big mistakes.

“In the 2015 Dakar I won stage one. In stage two I led most of the day, but got lost 50km before the finish for two hours and got super dehydrated. It was a big disappointment for me.”

Female trail blazer Sanz explained, “We have GPS, but you just see when you arrive at the next waypoint. It is not helping you navigate. You need to do it by yourself.

“It is difficult at the beginning to understand the speed you need to have and read the roadbook at the same time. My first year I got lost for one hour and a half looking for the waypoint. It is the way to learn by making mistakes.”

2016 champion Price added, “Our biggest thing when you are doing speeds of 140/150kph and taking your eyes off the track to look at the roadbook is that you cover a lot of ground in that split second. It takes time and practice to master it.

“Sometimes I wish I had a co-pilot as you are on your own for most of the rally. If the brakes or something go wrong you always wish you had someone who can get it sorted or somebody to talk to on the liaison section because you get quite bored out there.

“I can follow my nose pretty well going bush back in my home country of Australia, but here in Peru I couldn’t navigate back to the hotel right now without help!”

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