Aussie rider Daniel Sanders takes early Dakar Rally lead

Australia World

Australian rider Daniel Sanders has powered into an early lead at the Dakar Rally after winning the race prologue in Saudi Arabia and opening a one-minute gap over his pursuers.

The 27-year-old from Victoria, who made a big impact on his debut at last year’s race by finishing top rookie and fourth overall in the motorcycle class, started the year in brilliant style on Saturday in one of motorsport’s most celebrated and toughest endurance races.

“It’s cool to win my first Dakar special,” said Sanders,  who hails from the rural town of Three Bridges, 70km east of Melbourne.

“I was really comfortable in the stage, the bike was handling unreal. It’s cool to show some speed, but now the navigation has to start tomorrow.”

Sanders hopes to follow in the tracks of Queenslander Toby Price, a two-time motorcycle winner in Dakar who was in eighth after the 19km sprint prologue to the two-week marathon.

On his KTM 450 and representing the Spanish GasGas factory team, Sanders impressively negotiated the tough dunes and dirt tracks on the opening slog to Ha’il in the north west of Saudi Arabia to finish a minute clear of Chile’s Pablo Quintanilla.

“I knew I had to be fast in the prologue. If there’s not too much navigation, I knew I could be in the top three or five,” said Sanders, whose win has given him the advantage of a starting position of his choice in Sunday’s stage.

Molly Taylor enjoys strong start to maiden Dakar Rally

Molly Taylor, competing with Dale Moscatt in the SSV class for the CAN-AM Factory South Racing team, finished in sixth spot, one minute and one second behind the leaders.

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Taylor and Moscatt are the second-fastest rookies in the class behind Brazil’s Rodrigo Luppi de Oliveira and Maykel Justo.

Taylor, the first Australian woman to compete in the Dakar, said the stage was “tricky” but completed a “good clean run”.

“A tricky 19km stage but went well and got a good clean run finishing 6th,” she wrote on Instagram. 

“Also means a good road position for the 333km stage tomorrow. Can’t wait to get out on my first long Dakar stage!”

This is the 44th edition of the rally but only the third to be contested entirely in Saudi Arabia.

The event began in 1978 as a race from Paris to the Senegalese capital, Dakar, but moved from Africa to South America for safety reasons in 2009 and then to Saudi Arabia in 2020.

In the car rankings, Qatar’s Nasser Al-Attiyah leads as last year’s overall runner-up made a strong start to his bid for a fourth victory.

The Toyota Hilux driver was 12 seconds quicker than Spain’s three-times winner Carlos Sainz, driving the electric Audi RS Q e-tron.

Audi, with reigning champion and 14-times winner Stephane Peterhansel joining Sainz and Sweden’s Mattias Ekstroem in the team, is seeking to become the first manufacturer to win the Dakar with an electrified powertrain.

Peterhansel was ranked 14th, 1:12 off the pace, with Ekstroem 15th.

A black car drives through sandA black car drives through sand
Audi is seeking to become the first manufacturer to win the Dakar with an electrified powertrain.(REUTERS: Hamad I Mohammed)

AAP/ABC