Multiple World and Australian Off-Road Championship (AORC) Champion, Daniel Sanders has been signed to the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing Team joining former team-mate and World Champion Toby Price in an Australian assault on the 2021 Dakar Rally.
Sanders spoke exclusively to AORC as he prepared for what he says is, one of his biggest challenges.
Sanders joined Toby Price, a two-time Dakar Rally winner, Matthias Walkner, and Sam Sunderland in the KTM factory team last week.
“It’s going to be the biggest learning curve for me, I’ve obviously got the bike speed but I’ve never ridden the rally bikes before, but it’s an awesome opportunity the KTM group have given me and I can’t wait.
“They see me as the future in the sport and are putting a massive investment in me and it’s a great opportunity for me to be with the KTM group. It’s exciting and a huge opportunity for me and I’m looking forward to the development and to make it happen for me and KTM.
“I started with KTM and understand how the company works, as long as I’m under their banner I’ll jump on the bike and do the best I can for them.
“They’ve got the best equipment, are a massive name around the world and for what I want to do in the future they are the brand for me and I’m looking forward to being a worldwide ambassador for KTM.”
Sanders is realistic about the difficult challenge ahead.
“I would love to go there and break records, but it’s a dangerous race and I want to learn and be the best I can be for me and KTM.
“I could be the fastest rider there, but it doesn’t matter if I can’t read a road map,” Sanders said laughing.
Sanders is no stranger to taking on the world’s best.
In 2014 Sanders would win his first AORC Championship taking out the EJ class. In his first year in the E3 class Sanders finished second to then teammate Toby Price and later that year won the Slovakian ISDE by taking out the E3 class. He was a key member of Australia’s winning Junior team.
In 2016 Sanders took out the E3 class win in AORC, and also won the E3 class at the Spain ISDE and finished second Outright.
Sanders finished third Outright in the 2018 ISDE in Chile and was a key member of Australia’s winning World Trophy team.
Last year, after notching up a 5th AORC title, Sanders also won the outright Portuguese ISDE and was crowned World Champion.
While Melbourne went into lockdown back in March this year because of COVID-19, Sanders began to start planning his future with the first conversations happening back in May this year with his team and Australian desert and enduro legend – Ben Grabham.
“I talked to key managers about rally and started putting the feelers out and seeing what the options were available and spoke to Ben Grabham who has given me a lot of advice,” Sanders said.
“I had a number of options after the ISDE win as the Europeans and Americans wanted me.
“I really wanted to do the 6 day as my personal goal in my enduro career. I raced a season in Enduro GP and won Australian titles, but I liked the look of the desert and the speed.
“I like the long races and the endurance side of the sport, that’s what appeals to me.
“After the conversations with managers it just fell into place and I am so excited to make it happen with KTM.”
Sanders is no fool, he understands the significant challenges ahead having never ridden a rally machine before or competed in races where temperatures can get to over 50 degrees.
“It will be a big learning curve but a challenge I’m looking forward to,” he said.
“Road maps and navigating will be the biggest thing to learn, and to ride fast at the same time in the sand.
“I don’t live anywhere near sand at all so that will be a big learning curve.
“I think it’s the physical demand and speed of it is what appeals to me and the concentration that is required, that’s the challenge I’m looking forward to.
“We’ve been stuck in Melbourne and locked down for so long, and given the amount of time before Dakar I think I will be fine as I have nothing to do other than learn, ride and train as hard as I can.
“I’d love to go and dominate straight away, but I’m realistic, I’m going into this discipline blind and learning how to ride again and read a map in the sand at speed.”
Sanders is looking forward to re-joining his former AORC team-mate Toby Price in Spain.
“We raced together and were team-mates in 2015 before he went off to do rally, and we will be living together so that should be fun.
“We will have some good fun as we both have a similar sense of humour and we get on really well.”
While his new home base will be Spain for a month or so before racing commences in Spain, Portugal and Dubai, he will miss his family.
“We’ve spent the last five months together stuck at home in lockdown because of COVID, so it’s going to be hard living away from them.
“They’ve really supported me and believe in what I’m doing and it’s a shame we can’t even organise a going away party as that’s not allowed at the moment,” he said.
Sanders is thankful for those that have supported his riding over the past few years.
“A huge thanks to Husqvarna Australia for the last few years, it’s been amazing, particularly Jeff Leisk and Brad Haggi who is the new manager of KTM Australia, who have helped sort this deal out.
“We’ve done some awesome things on track and achieved a lot in the last few years and I’m really thankful for that.
“Ben Grabham has also given me a lot of advice regarding desert racing and he’s been there before and will be a big part of my future.”
So how has competing in the AORC helped Sanders prepare for his next challenge.
“It’s everything. Australian’s dominate because of AORC, it’s helped us go on and win overseas.
“Through AORC and because of the competition we’ve gone on to win World titles, in America, Six Days, and European series.
“We dominate because this championship is tough and when we go overseas, we are on another level, we are above world standings.
“Because of the range of events in AORC from cross countries, sprints, and enduros, the rides are disciplined and hungry to win, it’s competitive and everyone puts in a lot of work.
“The Championship is strong, that’s why riders stay and compete, and we love it, we love the sport.”