If there’s one thing Saudi Arabia does well, it’s sand. And dunes. It’s the sand dunes that have focused the mind of rookie Dakar star Sara Price this week.
The Californian sits in second place after the first week of the world’s toughest motorsport event. That’s more than she expected from her first visit to the event. But still, those dunes.
“That first week has been a bit of a rollercoaster,” she told DirtFish, “but we’re here and we’re second. Honestly, I didn’t expect that.”
What did she expect from herself, her co-driver Jeremy Gray and their South Racing Can-Am?
“Dakar is definitely a little bit more extreme than I expected,” she said, “but I don’t know what I was prepared for. I was coming in and tried to be as ready as I could be, but there was so much unknown. We’re taking it one day at a time and that’s all you can do on this event.
“I wanted to do the best we could and just hoped to be in the best position possible. I’m not going to get too excited, but second place is awesome.”
Remembering herself – and those 30 hours and 1400 miles of flat-out rollercoaster riding that has been Dakar week one – she adds: “There’s a long way to go. I’m not going to get excited.”
With Baja under her belt, Price is no stranger to marathon off-road racing, but this one is something else.
You make one wrong turn or one wrong move and your Dakar can be done in a secondSara Price
“The dunes,” Price said, wide-eyed. “Some of those things are just insane. I had no idea, honestly, no idea, that dunes could go on and on and on for so long. They just don’t stop. And then you get the check point on the top of a dune and if you stop at the bottom, you stop at the bottom it can be so difficult to get up – me an Jeremy pulled a miracle to make one of the, I’ve been blown away by the dunes.
“They’re really tough, though. You lose your visibility when you’re climbing one side and then descending – you don’t know where the other cars are and all the time you’re trying to keep the heading right and listen to your navigator. Honestly, Jeremy’s killing this whole thing – he’s been amazing.
“But I’m learning so much all the time. You know that when you’ve just come out of a refuel, it’s going to be tougher, the car’s heavier and that makes a difference. Momentum and virgin dirt are your friend – when you get into the places where there are a lot of tracks, the sand can be so soft.”
With six days and 1500 miles of competition still to come, what’s the plan? Can she win?
“We’re going day-by-day,” she said. “It looks like we’re back to the tracks and away from the dunes in the next couple of days. That means we could be back in the dust – we had so much in the first two days I got a cough! Once you’re into the dunes, you get less dust, but they bring another challenge.
“The focus out here is so intense. You make one wrong turn or one wrong move and your Dakar can be done in a second. The moment you lose your focus, something bad can happen real fast.
“I feel like we’re in a good spot right now. We’re still learning and sometimes we have to just check ourselves. Jeremy and me, we’re racers and we’re used to racing all the time – you have to de-tune that a little bit on the Dakar. You have to keep telling yourself: “You’re not going to win it today… it’s not all about today, it’s about the long haul. Don’t so something stupid today!”
After Saturday’s rest day, Price sends her DirtFish-stickered Can-Am back to the sand on Sunday’s 300-mile stage from Riyadh to Al Duwadimi. The event finishes in Yanbu on Friday.