Today, the Dakar Rally finally started into its 2017 edition, with stage one taking the field from Paraguay’s capital Asuncion to Resistencia, Argentina. Prior to the border crossing the drivers had to contest a short 39-kilometre special stage. In terms of time for the competitors this was just under half an hour under the clock, but they raced in temperatures of around 36 degrees Celsius and high humidity. It was a taste of what promises to be a huge difference in temperatures and terrain over the next two weeks.
In the Moto category 2016 Dakar winner, Toby Price led the field away but it was the outsiders who stole the show on the prologue with a confident Xavier de Soultrait appearing to take the honours in front of Joan Pedrero and Ricky Brabec. His time of 28.20 was the fastest of the day, however, he was later stripped and demoted nine places after a speeding violation meaning Pedrero will start the day in the lead on Tuesday. Last year’s winner Toby Price was one minute and 25 seconds back in 17th on his KTM.
“It was good today. I had to lead the stage out and that’s the first time I’ve got to do that at the Dakar. To do it out of Paraguay was really good. I had a couple of pet dogs on the track in the second half and that slowed us down a bit. But all in all I’m only a minute off the lead and its very, very early days and plenty more to go. Paraguay definitely set the tone and to be the first rider out is something I can put down in my own history book. Hopefully we can come back and do plenty more here.” – Toby Price
Aussie riders Todd Smith (20th) and Rod Faggotter (26th) weren’t far behind Price, while West Australian Matt Hart is currently in 64th
Two-time winner Nasser Al-Attiyah had an eventful start to his campaign. After storming around the circuit in little over 25 minutes to take first place, smoke filled the air around the finish line as he came to a holt shortly afterwards and had to be toed by teammate Giniel de Villiers 30km to the nearest bivouac. He said afterwards: “I smelled smoke and fire in the last 10 kilometres!”
Carlos Sainz leads the Peugeot contingent in fourth with Sebastien Loeb in sixth and defending champion Stephane Peterhansel in 12th with Loeb saying afterwards, “it’s not time to make a move yet.”
Two Mini’s are in the top 10. Yazeed Al-Rajhi (KSA) and Timo Gottschalk (GER) set the seventh-fastest time, thus finishing two positions ahead of their MINI John Cooper Works Rally team-mates Mikko Hirvonen (FIN) and Michel Périn (FRA).
Brazilian Marcelo Medeiros won a Dakar stage for the first time as he comfortably saw off the rest of the field on his Yamaha quad bike. Home favourite Nelson Sanabria gave the crowd something to cheer about as he completed the top three, just behind Gaston Gonzalez, while two-time winner Ignacio Casale is back in tenth.
The giant trucks were the last to tackle the tough terrain and complete the circuit with the Czech trio of Martin Kolomy, David Kilian and Rene Kilian posting a time of 30 minutes flat which saw them take the lead with a 13 second lead over their rivals.
Tomorrow, the competitors will have to cope with a clearly bigger challenge: a total distance of 802 kilometres from Resistencia to San Miguel de Tucuman, with 275 of them representing the special-stage distance. It will be a typical Argentinean special stage, mainly reminding of WRC routes. And due to the dispersed dust, overtaking will be extremely difficult.
2. X. Pons (ESP) / R. Garcia (ARG) Ford – 26m 05s
3. N. Roma (ESP) / A. Haro (ESP) Toyota – 26m 10s
4. C. Sainz (ESP) / L. Cruz (ESP) Peugeot – 26m 14s
5. G. de Villiers (KZA) / D. Von Zitzewitz (GER) Toyota – 26m 22s
3. Ricky Brabec (USA), Honda, +12 sec
3. Paulo Goncalves (POR), Honda, +26
4. Sam Sunderland (GBR), KTM, +27
5. Joan Barreda Bort (POR), Honda, +30