2023 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge: Sam Sunderland withdraws after broken ankle on final test day

Reigning World Rally-Raid Champion Sam Sunderland‘s 2023 could not have gotten off to a worse start. After breaking his shoulder in the first stage of the Dakar Rally in January, he suffered a broken ankle on Friday during the final shakedown for this weekend’s Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, which will force him to miss the race.

“Sometimes it’s hard in life to not ask yourself why, I’ve turned over every rock since my dakar crash to be back to full fitness and ready to fight with the best guys in the world in this crazy sport that brings out the best of me,” began a social media post by Sunderland. “I always search for accountability when I have an accident and keep it with me as a token reminder of my mistakes but this one is very bitter, the return on investment the last few months has been terrible.

“Today on our last training ride before the race I came over a rise and into a pocket, had a big impact and broke my ankle I won’t make the start of my favourite race of the year and will be back on the recovery train to be ready for the next fight. It’s a massive disappointment but I also keep in mind just how lucky I am to be in this position and I want to thank the team and all of my supporters that ride along for the the ups and downs. We will be back soon!”

2023 was supposed to be a title defence for Sunderland, who won the inaugural RallyGP World Rally-Raid Championship in 2022 that included his second victories each in the Dakar Rally and Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge. However, the year began on a sour note when he crashed fifty-two kilometres into the 2023 Dakar opener, suffering a broken shoulder and concussion.

Sunderland is not the only RallyGP rider out for Abu Dhabi as Dakar champion and points leader Kevin Benavides broke his femur while practicing on Wednesday. His Red Bull GasGas Factory Racing team-mate Daniel Sanders is also unavailable as he continues to recover from his elbow injury sustained in the opener.

The sudden development means there will be just eleven RallyGP entries for Abu Dhabi.