JEDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA - The Dakar Rally entered a new era as the event raced through the Saudi Arabian desert for the first time on Sundays' 319km run along the Red Sea from Jeddah to Al Whjh.
It also proved to be a day of surprises as literally unknown Lithuanian Viadotas Zala took the car win in his JCW Mini.
13 time Dakar winner Stephane Peterhansel and 2018 victor Carlos Sainz completed a Mini 1-2-3 while defending champion Nasser al-Attiyah of Qatar took fourth spot in his South African-built Gazoo Hilux bakkie. Al-Attiyah was quick from the start and led for 200km before he was slowed by three punctures in the closing part of the stage.
It was a less than ideal start for his Toyota team-mates, however, with former F1 star Fernando Alonso placing 11th and SA’s Giniel de Villiers languishing in 14th after suffering four punctures.
Alonso said the Dakar represents his toughest challenge to date and his main aim is to get to the finish in Qiddiya on January 17.