It's a case of everything to play for after the first day of the 34th Dakar rally, with just 37 seconds separating the top ten drivers in the car category.
The first day took competitors on a 250km liason section between Lima and Pisco in Peru, followed by a 13km special stage that created the first, but very tight, ranking order.
South Africa's Giniel de Villiers (with navigator Dirk von Zitzewitz) finished ninth in their Imperial Toyota Hilux, just 35 seconds adrift of special stage winner Carlos Sainz and Timo Gottschalk, in a buggy.
Second place was clinched by Argentinian Lucio Ezequiel Alvarez (with Bernardo Rolando Graue) in a Toyota Hilux.
Respective third and fourth places went to Guerlain Chicherit/Jean-Pierre Garcin (SMG Buggy) and Nasser Al-Attiyah/Lucas Cruz (Buggy), with Ronan Chabot/Gilles Pillot completing the top five in their buggy.
Giniel de Villiers' team-mate Duncan Vos (with Rob Howie) managed thirteenth place, and just 44 sec behind the winner, meaning that the South Africans are still very much in the running as the competitors tackle the 242km second special stage on Sunday.
The other South African car contenders, Johan van Staden and Mike Lawrenson in their Enduro MC-4 RS, currently sit in 141st position.
Reflecting on the first day, Giniel de Villiers (who won the race in 2009 and came third last year) remarked that "It was quite an easy stage today and not much more than a warm-up for the more serious challenges that lie ahead."
In the two-wheeled competition, Chilean Francisco Lopez took the lead on his KTM, with Frans Verhoeven (Yamaha) and Pablo Quintanilla (Honda) completing the top three.
On the South African front, Riaan van Niekerk finished 15th on his Replica KTM, while Darryl Curtis (on a similar machine) stands in 25th place, Brett Cummings (Honda) is 103rd , and Glen Grundy (Honda) is 167th.
In the quad category, Peruvian Ignacio Flores Seminario has taken the lead on his Yamaha 700 Raptor, while South African Sarel van Biljon is in 19th place. - IOL