Pisco, Peru – Qatar’s two-times winner Nasser al-Attiyah took the opening stage of the Dakar Rally in Peru on Saturday while Britain’s defending motorcycle champion Sam Sunderland led the way on two wheels.
Al-Attiyah, driving a Toyota Hilux, ended the day with a 25 second lead over Dutch team mate Bernhard ten Brinke after the short 35km special stage through the sand dunes around Pisco, down the coast from Lima.
The stage was run entirely in the soft dunes near the Peruvian city of Pisco and, short though it was, may yet play a role in the outcome of the race.
“The challenge with Stage 1," said 2009 Dakar winner, South African Giniel de Villiers, "is that we have to start Stage 2 in the order that we finished the opening stage. So, if you win Stage 1, you have to open the road on Stage 2 – and this year the bikes won’t start before us.
“For me the trick is to aim for the middle of the pack, but to still stay in touch with the leaders.”
De Villiers did exactly that on Stage 1, finishing sixth and trailing Al Attiyah by only 54 seconds at the end of the stage, ideally placed to attack on Stage 2 with five sets of tracks to follow.
'Go out and do it'
Nevertheless, stage winner Al Attiyah didn’t seem flustered at the prospect of opening the road for Stage 2.
“We’ll just have to go out and do it,” he said. “For me it is better to lead than to chase, and as it stands I have a little bit of time in hand now.”
While they enjoyed a trouble-free run, nine-times world rally champion Sebastian Loeb had a harder time and was six minutes off the lead after suffering brake issues with his Peugeot.
Loeb said his brakes failed after three kilometres of the stage, with the handbrake also failing.
”We went slowly, doing our best not to get stuck or bogged down,“ he said. “There were dunes with steep descents, so I had to stop accelerating 200 metres before that to avoid any risks.
“It was quite tricky, driving without brakes is exasperating. It was a difficult start.”
Peugeot’s reigning champion Stephane Peterhansel, who is chasing a 14th Dakar win, finished 11th, two minutes 15 seconds off the pace.
The only other South African driver in the car category, Hennie de Klerk in the TreasuryOne Amarok, finished a steady 55th, 17m6s off the pace.
KTM’s Dubai-based Sunderland ended the stage with a 32-second advantage over Yamaha’s French rider Adrien van Beveren. Pablo Quintanilla was third for Husqvarna, 56 seconds off the leader, and just one second ahead of Juan Barreda Bort on a Honda - making four different makes in the top four.
Top lady home was multiple world trials and enduro champion Laia Sanz, on a KTM, 12th overall, 3m16sec behind Sunderland.
Of the South Africans, David Thomas (Husqvarna) finished 28th, 4m53s down, Willem du Toit (KTM) was 76th on 14m40s, Capetonian rookie Donovan van de Langeberg (KTM) 88th on 18m48s, Wessel Bosman (KTM) 103rd on 36m32 and Gerry van der Byl (KTM) 133rd of 136 finishers after nearly three hours in the dunes (Sunderland's time was 20m55s).
Preview – Stage 2
The motorcycles will start after the cars in Sunday’s second stage, a 267km loop that starts and ends in Pisco.
Of the 523 entrants in all categories, 114 were making their debut in the 40th edition of the race, which will end in Cordoba, Argentina, on 20 January.