Dakar: Rookie Max Hunt learning as he goes

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British Dakar Rally rookie Max Hunt says he’s learning as he goes as he tackles this year’s race, only months after making the transition from on-track to off-road riding and signing himself up for the hardest race in the world.

A former British Supersport racer who was badly hurt in a crash at Brands Hatch’s Graeme Hill bend in 2011, the Dakar rookie told MCN that after a single trip to the race last year as a spectator he knew he had to ride it.

“I was doing overstuff like base jumping, skydiving, then I started flying wingsuits and started going crazy. Then a lot of people started getting killed and I stopped. Last year I came here with my brother who had always had the dream of doing Dakar in a car. We came out to watch him and the whole buzz of watching him, and seeing the bike guys, made me think it would be so good. I thought, yeah I’ll have a go with me on the bike and my brother in a car.”


“He had a very bad crash in the Libya rally though, broke his neck in two places. He can still walk but Dakar was out of the question. I’d put so much time into it that I was always going to do it. The focus is very much just to get to the end.”

And with only limited off-road experience beforehand, he always had a daunting task ahead of him – before he even started the arduous process of learning how to navigate through the task of navigating himself for some 600km of racing.

“I started in the desert with the Libya rally and their main guy Zippy took me out on the bike two days before and showed me how a road book worked. To start with, just trying to ride the bike and follow a simple direction was really hard. Then you start adding stuff in like CAP headings.”

“It’s hard to explain but it’s a skill in itself being able to do it. You know you can look 200m ahead and it’s clear but for some reason, when I started every time I looked at the road book I’d hit something.

“That’s why the highlighters work so well. So more recently I’ve started to use it as a picture book. One thing you learn is that the drawings are exactly correct, like OS maps, so the instead of thinking about what’s going on. I can see a church is on the left, so as long as I keep to the right of the church I’m fine. It’s little time saving things like that. The more you practice the more you can just glance at it.

And while he admits that yesterday’s tough uphill stage saw him struggle with altitude despite his preparation, the Brit is comfortably lying in 68th place – and loving the experience so far.

“It was snowing, it was crazy. I got a bit of a headache around 4000m but at 5000m it seemed to get better. I was really aggravated because I got stung by a bee yesterday right on my neck. It got between my neck brace and it was agony, then today something stung me right between my goggles and helmet.

“It’s just long isn’t it? But no it was good. Although the queue for the petrol station was mad – I got to the special and I’d missed my start time so they we’re just like ‘go go go.’ Did you hear about the guy struck by lightning? The lightning was crazy.”

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Simon Patterson

By Simon Patterson

MotoGP and road racing reporter, photographer, videographer