Competitors at the 35th running of The Dakar started the rally raid with a 180 km special and 629 km of liaison sections characterized by rocky soil riverbeds and narrow tracks with blind rises – as they made their way from Rosario, the third-largest city in Argentina, to San Luis.
In the bike category, all eyes were on five-time winner Cyril Despres, who recently switched from KTM to Yamaha. The French Dakar stalwart hopes to equal the six motorcycle wins of compatriot Stephane Peterhansel and got that goal off to a good start by finishing yesterday’s first stage in third overall.
Despite coming off his Honda shortly after crossing Check Point 1 in first position, Spaniard Juan Barreda proved that he is a force to be reckoned with when he came back to win by 37 seconds, snatching the stage victory from fellow countryman Marc Coma, who returned to this year’s event after an injury kept him out of title contention in 2013.
Frenchman Alain Duclos brought his Sherco home in fourth overall, with Barreda’s teammated Paulo Goncalves in fifth.
“I am very happy to finish the first day. I wasn’t on a good rhythm at the beginning of the stage. I didn’t have a good feeling with the bike and I had a small fall. I’ll try to be conservative with the bike in the days to come, but I’m happy,” Barreda said.
Argentinian Quad king and two-time defending champion Marcos Patronelli’s campaign has already heated with rivals trying to end the domination of his Yamaha. Chilean Ignacio Casale caught Patronelli and went on to take a 21 second victory over the man he finished second to in 2013. Argentinian Lucas Bonetto wasn’t far off in third overall with Polish veteran Rafael Sonik in fourth.
Legendary 11-time winner Stephane Peterhansel hopes to defend his crown and take a phenomenal 12th Dakar title with the all-conquering X-Raid Mini, but stage wins are not on the immediate agenda for the Frenchman, who started cautiously and let his rivals and teammates battle for early supremacy.
Despite having only got behind the wheel of his new Mini just a few days ago for the very first time and not being happy with the set-up, Qatari Nasser Al-Attiyah came out guns blazing – managing to finish the day in third. Team mate and local favourite Orlando Terranova nearly scooped his first stage win of 2014 when Carlos Sousa suffered aircon and cooling problems with his Haval/GWM H8, but the Portuguese driver persevered to win regardless.
The Mini assault is once again a serious affair with Spain’s Nani Roma hot on the heels of his teammates. Former champion and WRC legend Carlos Sainz pulled of a tremendous drive in his two-wheel drive SMG buggy to round off the top five.
Unfortunately South African hopeful and runner-up in 2013 Giniel de Villiers suffered power steering problems in his Toyota Hilux and lost 15 minutes to the front runners and is now lying in 27th overall, while teammate Leeroy Poulter fared better with ninth overall. The Neil Woolridge-run Ford effort finished its first Dakar stage with local Lucio Alvarez at the wheel of the Ranger, finishing two hours behind the leaders.
For day two of Dakar, the surface gets softer as the first dunes section looms. The Dakar circus now slowly makes its way north for a first-ever visit to Bolivia, which brings a unique set of challenges to the event, as the Andes Mountains tower over the proceedings and the heat of the Atacama desert beckons.
1. Barreda #3(Honda CRF 450 Rally) = 2 hours 25 minutes 31 seconds
2. Coma #2 (KTM 450 Rally Factory Replica) +37 seconds
3. Despres #1 (Yamaha 450 YZF) +1 minute 40 seconds
4. Duclos #22 (Sherco 450 SR) +1 minute 56 seconds
5. Goncalves #10 (Honda CRF 450 Rally) + 2 minutes 25 seconds.
1. Casale #251 (Yamaha) = 2 hours 38 minutes 41 seconds
2. Patronelli #250 (Yamaha) + 21 seconds
3. Bonetto #253 (Honda) + 1 minute 17 seconds
4. Sonik #252 (Yamaha) + 1 minute 30 seconds
5. Husseini #255 (Honda) + 2 minutes 49 seconds
1. Sousa #306 (Haval H6) = 2 hours 20 minutes 36 seconds
2. Terranova #307 (Mini Countryman) + 11 seconds
3. Al-Attiyah #301 (Mini Countryman) + 47 seconds
4. Roma #304 (Mini Countryman) + 1 minute 15 seconds
5. Sainz #303 (SMG Buggy) + 4 minutes 3 seconds
1. Mardeev #503 (Kamaz) = 2 hours 46 minutes 52 seconds
2. Loprais #504 (Tatra) + 10 seconds
3. Van Vliet #508 (MAN) + 21 seconds
4. De Rooy #500 (Iveco) + 1 minute 33 seconds
5. Nikolaev #500 (Kamaz) + 4 minutes