Andrew Houlihan tops Vets class and 9th overall in Saudi
By Brett Murray
Monday 6th February, 2023 - 7:36am
Australian Andrew Houlihan has won the Vets class and finished ninth overall in the opening round of the 2023 FIM Bajas World Cup in Saudi Arabia.
It was a strong result in his debut Baja event and “way above what I came here expecting to achieve” he said at the conclusion of the rally on Sunday.
After a stellar performance in the Prologue, Houlihan started Stage 1 from second position. The terrain in the 230km special stage was punishing, but so was the navigation.
“I knew it would be a big challenge and I can now see why the top riders never want to open the stage as there were no tracks to follow”, said Holihan, who is sponsored by Speedcafe.com.
Not far into the stage Houlihan passed the leading bike of Lebanese rider Ehad Al Hakeem and pulled away. But a navigation error at the 13km mark saw him head off in the wrong direction.
“At KM 30 I stopped and the roadbook wasn’t making any sense. I couldn’t see any bikes behind me. And then I worked out I had f…ed up bad!
“I turned around and made my way back to KM 13 and realised what I had done. I was pissed off as I had just lost 25-30 minutes so I pushed as hard as I could.”
Houlihan eventually caught up to Al Hakeem again but was spent, so decided to settle in and ride the rest of the stage with him.
“I’ve been training hard in Hattah and the Sunset Desert for this World Championship series, riding the hardest sand tracks I can find but nothing compares to the sand and dunes in the Arabian deserts,” said Houlihan.
Houlihan said the stage really caught him off guard as the navigation was way more difficult than he had encountered at Dakar and the Africa Eco Race, and the terrain was brutal with no place to rest or relax.
But despite the dramas, he managed to finish Stage 1 in 14th position overall and 1st in the Vets class.
Going into Stage 2 the following morning further down the starting list gave Houlihan the advantage he needed to claw his way back.
The early section of the 184km special had deep sand and tracks heading in every direction, making navigation again very difficult. But after the fuel stop at 100km the terrain opened up into one of the fastest sections he’d ever ridden with speeds of up to 150km/h.
“The last 30km were crazy fast. #22 Brett Hunt from the UK came past me at a stupidly fast speed in the deep sand so I decided to race him for the remainder of the stage. We were absolutely putting our lives on the line and it paid off when we crossed the finish line,” Houlihan said in the debrief.
Houlihan finished the stage sixth overall, but was awarded a five-minute penalty for allegedly losing his time card – which was seemingly lost by officials after he had handed it in at the end of the stage!
The penalty dropped him to eighth in the stage but had no effect on the overall result, so he decided not to protest the penalty and save the 250 Euro protest fee!
“The result has been a good start to the year for me in the 2023 FIM Bajas World Cup,” said Houlihan.
“I’m now on a flight back to Australia and straight into preparation for Round 2 in Qatar in five weeks time.”
The second round of the 2023 FIM Bajas World Cup is the Qatar International Baja from 16th to 18th March 2023.
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