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Aussies do us proud in tough African rally

2020 Africa ECO Race Andrew Houlihan african

As we celebrate Australia Day weekend and Toby Price’s podium finish in last week’s Dakar Rally, let’s also celebrate three Aussie riders in an equally tough African rally.

Three Australians competed in the gruelling 14-day 2020 Africa ECO Race from France to Senegal.

The event is probably closer to the original Dakar Rally when it was held in Europe and Africa before shifting to South America after a 2008 terrorist threat cancelled the event. This year it moved to Saudi Arabia to “follow the oil money”!

Aussies do us proud

Matt Sutherland African rally
Matt Sutherland

Australia was proudly represented at the Africa ECO Race by Matt Sutherland (KTM), Andrew Houlihan (KTM) and Peter Caldwell (KTM).

Matt, who was born in Ballarat but now lives in Vancouver, was a late entry replacing a rider in Lyndon Poskitt’s Team Races 2 Places who had to withdraw due to illness. Matt finished the rally in seventh place.

“It was a crazy hard race,” he says.

Matt Sutherland African rally
Matt Sutherland

Andrew (pictured top of the page) from Albury is an experienced international off-road racer. He finished 21st outright and is on a mission to compete in the Dakar next year.

“I came with no expectations other than to finish,” says Andrew.

“I had a couple of bad days and a few really good days.”

He has already had great success in Australia and now has backing from Coca-Cola Energy for next year’s Dakar.

2020 Africa ECO Race Andrew Houlihan
Andrew Houlihan

Peter, who now lives in Saudi Arabia, finished 36th after losing plenty of time in an early stage when he got lost in the sand dunes.

He finished 30 hours off the pace so even finishing the tough event was a great achievement.

Peter Caldwell Africa Rally
Peter Caldwell

African event

Riders struggled over the 14-day event with the demanding terrain, some stranded in the desert for up to 30 hours. One stage has to be cut short due to multiple serious crashes requiring evacuations by helicopter.

The Africa ECO Race is an annual rally raid that starts in Europe and retraces much of the path of the original Paris-Dakar rally, ending on the banks of the famous pink lake – Lac Rose – in Senegal.

The event started after the 2008 Dakar was cancelled one day before it was due to start amid fears of a terrorist attack in Mauritania.

While the Dakar was relocated to South America, diehard fans were disappointed it had left Africa.

So the ECO Race was created to ensure the original format and character of the Paris-Dakar continued.

Matt Sutherland African rally
Matt Sutherland

Andrew says they travelled through “some of the toughest terrain in the world.”

“Whilst the Dakar Rally is the best known rally in the world, the Africa ECO Race is often referred to as the real race to Dakar as it retraces much of the old Paris-Dakar route and finishes at the original end point in Dakar, Senegal.”

This year’s event started under lights in Monaco on 4 January 2020.

Competitors then travelled to the port of Savona in Italy to board a ferry which took them to Tangier in Morocco.

From there they competed for 12 days racing over a distance of 6,500km through the mind-blowing landscapes of Morocco, Western Sahara, Mauritania and Senegal.African rally

Each stage was between 300 to 750km, with the average day being a distance of 400 to 500km.

The race was won by Italian Allesdandro Botturi on a Yamaha, ahead of mostly KTM riders.