While two-time Dakar Rally winner Toby Price sadly crashed out of this year’s event, three Aussie rookies proudly flew the flag for our country.
Daniel Sanders (KTM) scored an unbelievable fourth place, Victorian Michael Burgess (KTM) finished 27th and Andrew Houlihan of Albury was 50th.
This year’s 14-day event – the second to be held in Saudi Arabia – covered almost 800km of rocks and massive dunes in some of the most demanding terrain yet.
Just finishing such a course is an achievement in itself.
Toby crashed out on Stage 9, just one minute from the overall lead and had to retire with a broken collarbone.
The fact that the other three Aussie rookies completed the race is astonishing with 101 starters and only 63 finishers.
But what makes it even more astonishing is that the three Aussies rookies finished in the top 50.
One of the most creditable finishes as that of 51-year-old Andrew who rides a KTM 450RFR for the Coca-Cola Racing/Nomadas Adventure squad.
Andrew fractured the scaphoid in his right wrist in a fall on day 3 and rode with his wrist heavily strapped and in intense pain for the rest of the rally.
“It then became a mental and physical challenge every single day”, he says. “There were times when I wanted to give up.”
With the help and support from the team’s trainer and physio, the on-site doctor, pain relief and his sheer determination, Houlihan made it to the finish line in Jeddah.
“One more day!” he would tell himself each morning as he struggled with physical and mental fatigue, and the pain from his injury.
“Just one waypoint, one day at a time.”
After 12 days of intense competition he crossed the line together with his teammate, Mexican rider Pablo Guillen.
“I wanted something difficult and Dakar delivered”, says Andrew Houlihan.
“I ended up in 50th place which I’m very happy with, and rolling up on that finisher’s podium was something I’ll never forget. It’s an amazing feeling.”
After great success in local competition, completing the Dakar Rally became a dream of Andrew’s when he entered the international rally scene in 2018.
But a crash in his first international event in Greece almost claimed his life.
The list of injuries was long – broken neck, nine broken ribs, punctured lung, broken sternum, broken collarbone, badly broken scapula, broken hand, broken nose and a badly damaged eye socket.
To date he’s gone through 16 surgeries and his complete recovery took close to 2 years.
“There’s not much in my body that isn’t titanium”, he jokes. “Travelling through airports is always a problem for me.”
Now that he’s achieved his long standing goal, Houlihan says he’s already talking to the team about what’s next.
“If there’s a book to be written”, he says, “there’s still a few chapters to go yet!”