Dakar

Sara Price on Dakar: “You have 14 days of racing, and they say it’s equivalent to a Baja 500 every single day”

5 Mins read
Credit: Julien Delfosse/DPPI

After a decade of work, Sara Price finally got to race at the Dakar Rally for the first time in January. Even as a rookie, she quickly impressed when she won a stage and just barely missed the overall podium in the SSV category.

On Saturday, Price was invited into the booth for the Mint 400, another prestigious off-road race, to speak about her Dakar experience. She had entered the Mint’s Limited race the day before, where she and Cameron Steele finished twelfth in the UTV Pro category. Many American Dakar competitors including Mitch Guthrie, Skyler Howes, and Price’s boyfriend and 2024 Dakar bike winner Ricky Brabec also ran the Limited event.

Although the Dakar also takes place in a desert, rally raids are a different beast from traditional desert races like the Mint and SCORE International, the latter of which Price won the Trophy Truck Spec championship in 2019.

“Dakar is something I really can’t even describe. It’s just a whole ‘nother animal,” Price recalled. “You’re over there in Saudi Arabia, it’s different country, different terrain, different rules; FIA is a very technical association we’re racing with. To get there is really expensive and not easy. It takes a lot of work because we’re racing in a different way than we do here in America. We’re using a roadbook, we’re using cars that have all these restrictions on them, and it’s just a different game but it’s a dream come true for me.”

Price earned her ticket to the Dakar Rally by winning the National Car/UTV class at the 2023 Sonora Rally, a round of the World Rally-Raid Championship and leg on the Road to Dakar programme; the Road to Dakar rewards racers who have no prior Dakar experience with free registration for the event. As a final dress rehearsal, she entered the 2023 W2RC’s season-ending Rallye du Maroc and quickly impressed as she won two stages and finished second in the SSV category to Can-Am team-mate João Ferreira.

Her momentum continued into the Dakar, finishing third in the first stage and generally hanging within SSV podium range throughout the rally. In Stage #10, she enjoyed her breakout when she became just the third woman to win a Dakar stage after Jutta Kleinschmidt in 1997 and Cristina Gutiérrez in 2021; appropriately, Gutiérrez went on to win the 2024 Dakar in the Challenger class for race-purposed UTVs.

She ultimately finished fourth in SSV, just seven minutes behind current championship leader Yasir Seaidan for the final podium spot. Since winner Xavier de Soultrait and runner-up Jérôme de Sadeleer are not registered for the W2RC, Price placed second among points-earning competitors.

“I was very motivated every single day,” she said. “What they throw at you, they try to beat you down, but I was prepared to go with the flow of that because I knew that was going to be the case. Were there days that were harder than other days? 100 percent, and I think that is the tough thing about Dakar. They are throwing these things at you, and you have to be on point from a strategic part of it to the driver part of it and you have to think about that while you’re driving and also navigating and doing all these things. I think when it comes down to it, you got to get through every day, you got to be consistent, you are good as you are on your worst day. You have fourteen days of racing, and they say it’s equivalent to a Baja 500 every single day.”

Perhaps making her stage win all the sweeter, Brabec also won his class there. It was Brabec’s only stage victory, but his consistency meant he had been leading the bike overall for the past four days and he maintained his advantage over the final two legs to score his second Dakar win.

Neither had many opportunities to see each other in Saudi Arabia, owing to the bikes starting their races before the crack of dawn while SSV begins well after most cars. Still, the moments where they could be together were certainly positive.

“The stage we both won together, that was pretty cool. Guaranteed we saw each other that day for the awards ceremony to get our medal that night,” Price remarked. “Usually the first thing we do is when we get done with our day doing our side of the racing, you check the stats and you want to know how each other did.

“Honestly, it was pretty cool because it was comforting for both of us to know we’re both there going through the same thing. It was actually really cool because he opened a lot of the days because he was doing so good that the cars follow the bike lines. I would be asking him, ‘So when you’re going to a dune section, the heading was going to the right through,’ and he goes, ‘Yeah, I didn’t want to go through and see how many dunes there was and went left.’ He just completely booked it left through a valley and came back on the heading. I’m just like, ‘So how did you even know?’ He goes, ‘Oh, I dodn’t totally know.’ I was like, ‘We all followed you!'”

The Dakar effort was the culmination of nearly a decade of work and competing across a multitude of disciplines such as motocross, Stadium Super Trucks, and Extreme E. Price told The Checkered Flag last May after her Sonora victory that she is “really quick at adapting” to new vehicles. She also had the help of people like Baja legend Johnny Campbell and Jimmy Lewis, a 2000 Dakar Rally podium finisher who runs the Jimmy Lewis Off-Road Riding School; Lewis is also the new bike director for NORRA, which offers rally raid-style racing in Baja California. A week after winning Sonora, Price won her class at NORRA’s Mexican 1000.

Although an established face in the American off-road world, it was certainly not an easy road for Price on the funding side. While she races for SSV powerhouse South Racing Can-Am, rally raid can be an espcially expensive endeavour for those without factory support (a common theme among privateer riders). Brabec, a fellow American who has Honda manufacturer backing, has been vocal about his compatriots not getting many opportunities in the sport as factory support declines.

“I wanted to get to Dakar ever since 2015, and it took me this long to figure out how to do it, how to fund it,” continued Price. “Honestly, when it came down to it, I had amazing partners in my corner, but it also required a tremendous amount of funding that maybe partners couldn’t completely cover for me, especially the first year. I have to give a big shout out to BFGoodrich. They were my first big sponsor that came on and really believed in me and gave me that step to actually make this happen because I still funded half of it, and it was all my money that I worked hard over my lifetime to have, and I put towards it to take that risk on myself.

“I made sure I did every single thing I could have done to be prepared to make use of that money that I put towards this. But it was a dream of mine, and my top bucket list item is to get to Dakar. And now I added another thing: now I want to go back and win Dakar.”

Price and the aforementioned American rally raiders opted not to run the latest W2RC race, last week’s Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, to focus on the Mint 400. However, as someone registered for the championship, she is eligible to rejoin the title battle at any of the other three races in 2024 that she chooses to enter. The next W2RC round, the BP Ultimate Rally-Raid in Portugal, runs 2–7 April.

Avatar photo
3611 posts

About author
Justin is not an off-road racer, but he writes about it for The Checkered Flag.
Articles
Related posts
Dakar

2024 Dakar Rally: Cristina Gutierrez, Mitch Guthrie's engines cleared by FIA

1 Mins read
3 months after a protest was lodged against Cristina Gutiérrez and Mitch Guthrie following their 1–2 finish at the Dakar Rally, the FIA has confirmed their Taurus T3 Max’s engines comply with regulation.
Dakar

Ales Loprais building Tatra Puma for Dakar Classic

1 Mins read
Aleš Loprais, second in Truck at this year’s Dakar Rally, will pay tribute to his uncle and 3× race winner Karel Loprais by building a Tatra 815 “Puma” for the Dakar Classic.
Dakar

TreasuryONE Motorsport taking Dakar-style approach to SARRC, returning in 2026

2 Mins read
Hennie de Klerk and TreasuryONE Motorsport plan to return to the Dakar Rally in 2026, and will hone their skills by adopting a Dakar-style race strategy in the 2024 South African Rally-Raid Championship.