Sam Sunderland – Segrave Trophy winner 2017

You’d be forgiven for having not heard of the Segrave Trophy, especially those who live outside of the UK. But take a closer look at the award and the list of previous winners reads like a who’s who of the British motorsport world.

Sam Sunderland is the first and only British motorcycle rider to have won the Dakar Rally. On January 14, 2017 the likeable Red Bull KTM Factory Racing rider from Poole in Dorset crossed the finish line in Argentina to make his own special piece of history. In the 40 years that the Dakar Rally has run, both in Africa and South America, no Brit had previously ever taken victory, in any class.

It is this achievement that the Segrave Nominations Committee deemed worthy of winning the prestigious Segrave Trophy. Commissioned in 1930 by Lady Segrave in memory of her husband, the award is only presented to someone who displays ‘outstanding skill, courage and initiative on land, water and in the air – the Spirit of Adventure’. Past motorcycling winners include John Surtees, Joey Dunlop, Barry Sheene and Mike Hailwood – an impressive list indeed!

Sam Sunderland 2018 © Royal Automobile Club

At the recent award ceremony held at the Royal Automobile Club in London, the KTM BLOG caught up with Sam to get his thoughts on being presented with such a prestigious award and what it means for him personally, and motorcycle sport in the UK.

Sam, first of all congratulations on winning the Segrave Trophy. How does it feel having your name added to such an incredible list of former winners?
“It’s amazing, I am truly humbled and honored to be part of such a legendary list of riders, drivers and pioneers in the world of motorsport. As an offroad rider I think it’s something extra special to be given the award as our disciplines are often overlooked. It brings further media attention to our sport and I think raises it up a level too, even on the world stage.

When I was first told I had won the award, and looked up the past winners, it blew my mind. I also like the fact they don’t give it out every year, but only when someone is deemed worthy of winning – it makes it that little bit more special.”

As someone who spends most of his time racing and traveling all over the world, do you think winning the Seagrave Trophy will help shine a light on cross-country rallying in the UK?
“Yes definitely, I think a lot of people in the UK have heard of the Dakar Rally, but perhaps don’t know that much about it. When I won in 2017 the response from the public was amazing, this award only goes to further that recognition and I think it’s hugely important especially for offroad motorsport. As a proud Englishman, it’s a massive achievement to have my name added to that list of winners.”

Sam Sunderland (GBR), Red Bull KTM Factory Racing Team & KTM 450 RALLY 2017 © Rally Zone

Yourself and John McGuinness are the latest two winners of the award – one a Dakar Rally winner, McGuinness a 23-time Isle of Man TT winner. The two events are widely different but arguably likened due to their extreme nature …
“As motorcyclists, I think we often forget how extreme a lot of what we do really is. I have heard the Dakar compared to the TT before and I even have some friends who race there. I think it’s like a lot of sports, you are aware of the dangers involved in your own sport but you find a way to deal with it. It’s that ‘spirit of adventure’ as named in the award and the challenge of pitting yourself against not just your opponents but the conditions and the event itself. I think that’s what makes the two stand out from other disciplines in motorcycle sport and again I’m honored to be credited for my achievements.”

What would you say is the biggest difference that separates rallying from other forms of motorcycle racing?
“The biggest difference is perhaps that with races like the TT, road racing and motocross you can learn the course, learn the tracks. With rally, everything is new every single kilometer. You are trusting your road book completely and if there are no dangers listed in the road book you simply don’t shut off. If you hesitate too much on each blind rise for example, you just won’t finish in the top-10.”

Sam Sunderland (GBR) KTM 450 RALLY 2018 © Marcin Kin

Some of the Seagrave trophy winners were true pioneers, not always out-and-out racers, which perfectly highlights the importance of Spirit of Adventure …
“There aren’t many corners of the world people haven’t been today, so I guess it’s harder to be a pioneer, but adventure – going and doing – still excites and motivates people. When you look back at the past winners of the Segrave Trophy, some of those guys, and girls, were amazing. They were the true pioneers of sport or adventure and really pushed the boundaries of what was possible at the time. You have got Malcom Campbell and his son Donald, they both set world speed records; Amy Johnson who flew solo from London to Cape Town in 1932. To be added to the same list as legends like that feels incredible.”

Sam Sunderland & Tom Purves (Chairman of the Royal Automobile Club) 2018 © Royal Automobile Club

You’ve won the Dakar, had your achievements acknowledged with the Segrave award, but our guess is you’re not ready to slow down just yet!
“No, no way. It simply doesn’t work like that. I am a racer and so often the feeling you have inside is that you are only as good as your last race. The 2018 Dakar was a tough one for me, my pace was good, but a small mistake on one of the stages caused me to hurt my back and I was forced to retire. Luckily, I wasn’t injured too badly and was back on a bike a few weeks later, but inside I was gutted. I wanted so badly to win again and I felt I had let myself and the team down. When you have won the Dakar it just raises the bar that little bit higher and you have this expectation to do better.

I remember the first round of the World Championship in Abu Dhabi after I had won the Dakar. You feel like everyone simply expects you to go on winning and it’s just not that straightforward. It’s like you never arrive, you have to keep on going, keep on fighting for wins and results.”

Thanks Sam, congratulations again on your award and good luck for the 2019 Dakar!

Photos: Royal Automobile Club | Rally Zone | Marcin Kin