Dakar 2021 hopeful gets green light to travel from NSW to Saudi Arabia
Off-road motorcycle rider Andrew Houlihan has received a travel exemption from the Australian Government to compete in the January 2021 Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia — and expects it to be the most gruelling race to date.
- Andrew Houlihan was invited to compete in the 2021 Dakar Rally with Swiss-based team Nomadas Adventure
- The 2021 Dakar race event is said to be one of the toughest yet, and riders will wear airbag vests
- Gold Coast-based two-time winner Toby Price and Bendigo rider Michael Burgess will also compete
The Albury-based rider was unsure if he would get to the event due to the coronavirus pandemic, but it’s now official and Houlihan will leave Australia in December to take part in the gruelling 14-day event that starts on January 3.
Houlihan will ride with the Swiss-based Nomadas Adventure team.
He will leave Australia early December and quarantine in Saudi Arabia on arrival.
“At the moment there is a 14-day quarantine period in Saudi, we are waiting to hear from the Dakar organisers on how they are going to manage that and where we will quarantine,” he said.
Houlihan, who bought a new bike for Dakar, said he would air freight the KTM 450 RFR rally bike to his team in Switzerland in the coming weeks.
“At the moment I am looking at flying directly into Saudi Arabi [and not Switzerland] and meeting the team there to avoid multiple quarantines,” he said.
“They will prepare the bike for me and I’ll get it shipped to Saudi Arabia.”
Houlihan said he would have loved to have spent more hours on the new bike ahead of Dakar, but it was not possible with COVID-19 restrictions.
He also had to undergo ankle and thumb surgery related to injuries received following a life-threatening crash during the Hellas Rally Raid in Greece in May 2018.
“I haven’t had a lot of time to prepare on this bike. It will be in Switzerland mid-October, so I’m hoping I will get a couple of days on the bike in Saudi Arabia before Dakar and I’ll probably get a week or so on it here before we fly it over to Switzerland,” he said.
“The bike is similar to what I raced in the Africa Eco Race (a rally raid event Houlihan completed in January), it’s just a later model, so I’m really confident with the bike.”
The most gruelling Dakar yet
Houlihan said he had heard Dakar 2021 would be one of the most gruelling to date.
He said riders were expecting to face sand dunes daily up to 250 to 300 metres high, and airbag vests would be mandatory.
“I had two weeks of sand dunes in the Africa Eco Race, lots of big sand dunes every day, so I think I know what I’m in for,” he said.
Houlihan, who said competing at his first Dakar would be a dream come true, hoped to return multiple times and said plans to compete in the buggy category with his wife Katie remained on track.
“This being my first Dakar I want to get there and finish on my bike and go back the following year and try and be competitive,” he said.
“Katie is really keen to get in a buggy and do one of the European races next year to get some experience … I’d eventually love to do Dakar in a buggy with Katie,” he said.
Houlihan said he hoped to ride competitively for a few years yet.
“I’m starting to push the mid-50s now so I have to be careful and smart about how to approach things, but I’ll keep going as long as I can afford to do it and as long as my body holds up,” he said.