Sam Sunderland has retained his 2022 Dakar Rally lead on day four of the gruelling rally-raiding event, despite losing time during SS3.
Sunderland, who made history as the first British rider to win the event with KTM in 2017, is this year competing with the sister GASGAS outfit and wasted no time in putting his stamp on early proceedings with strong showings in the first three stages (SS1A, SS1B, SS2) that gave him a lead of almost three minutes.
However, he could only manage the 17th fastest time on the 636km SS3, so while he remains in the lead, he is now a mere four seconds up on second place rider Adrian Van Beveren on the Yamaha.
“Today was very sandy, and very fast,” he said. “I had a little bit of difficulty finding a waypoint, which allowed a few riders to catch up with me, so I knew I’d lost a bit of time there.
“But overall, it wasn’t too bad. We’re in for a really long stage tomorrow so starting further back is a good thing and I’m excited for a long day on the bike.”
As it stands, only four minutes covers the top four riders with KTM’s Mathias Walkner and Husqvarna’s Skylar Howes well within range of the top spot with nine stages still to go.
Notably, for an event dominated by KTM until 2019 when the switch to Saudi Arabia saw Honda win in 2020 and 2021, the 2022 Dakar Rally features myriad different manufacturers within the top ten positions.
Indeed, while GASGAS has competed in several Dakar Rally events, its entry has been expanded for 2022 courtesy of its new parent company KTM, with Sunderland’s early form giving it hope of a famous success for the Spanish brand.
Beyond Husqvarna, KTM and Honda, Yamaha is well placed having not tasted glory at the Dakar since 1998, while the top ten also features models from French off-road motorcycle firm Sherco and India’s Hero MotoCorp.
Beyond the leading runners, several high-profile names are making headway after early delays with defending champion Kevin Benavides on the KTM back up to eighth, Yamaha’s Ross Branch in 11th, KTM factory stalwart Toby Price 14th and 2020 winner Ricky Brabec in 20th.
After being forced to stop on SS2 with technical issues, Danilo Petrucci restarted his Dakar Rally – albeit several hours down – and set the 22nd fastest time on the stage.