Sunday’s leg of the Dakar rally marked the first stage of racing in Africa, and ensured veteran and four-time overall winner Ari Vatanen his 50th Dakar stage win.

Sunday’s leg of the Dakar rally marked the first stage of racing in Africa, and ensured veteran and four-time overall winner, Ari Vatanen, his 50th Dakar stage win.

Vatanen won the Special stage in the Car category with a time of 40 minutes and 40 seconds, giving the Finn his record 50th all-time stage victory.

"It was a joy to drive today," Vatanen recounted. "The car ran like clockwork."

Stephane Peterhansel finished a mere 10 seconds adrift, the Mitsubishi driver keeping the overall Car lead while former World Rally Champion Colin McRae had his best showing thus far with a fourth place finish for Nissan.

On the motorcycles, South Africa’s Alfie Cox, racing for the KTM International Team, finished second to teammate Fabrizio Méoni in the first African stage.

“This is the real thing, we are now racing, and I am here to give it my best shot. I really enjoyed the stage, although it is not the desert yet! This is what I dedicated my year to and now I can let the nerves settle, focus and ride my heart out!” commented Cox at the finish.

Things are now serious with the first stage in Africa completed and everyone given the opportunity to adapt to the harsh conditions. After the fast 233km liaison stage, the competitors raced across a 75km special stage in the Moroccan pine forests. Competitors finished the day with 444km liaison to Er Rachidia, resulting in more than 11 hours spent in the saddle to complete the total 750km. The stage finished at Er Rachidia, at the entrance of the Ziz valley, part of the passage used to access the forgotten oasis of Meski.

Cox is now fourth overall in the motorcycle category, only 32 seconds behind the leader, Isidre Esteve-Pujol of Spain, Fabrizio Méoni in second place, and Cyril Despres of France in third.

Monday’s fifth stage, from Er Rachidia to Ouarzazate, starts with a 56 km section before a very difficult 337 km special Moroccan stage. Rocky, extremely dry and dusty conditions are promised before the route reaches the first canyons and kilometres of sandy tracks that lead the competitors to the highlight of this first part of the rally - the Erg Chebbib in the Moroccan desert.