Toyota’s Nasser Al-Attiyah has taken the early lead of the 2022 Dakar Rally following the opening loop stage at Ha’il, while Stéphane Peterhansel’s victory chances ended with a suspected broken rear axle on his Audi.
Following Saturday’s short 11-mile prologue stage, the bivouac leapt straight into the first proper stage of the 44th edition, at the 319 miles (206 of which timed sections).
Starting and finishing in the northern city of Ha’il, the stage – labelled Stage 1B and the first of five loop stages in this year’s edition – gave the crews a real navigational test throughout the special which was run primarily on sandy tracks (81%), with just a handful of miles dedicated to steep dunes and another eight miles on soil-based roads.
Having elected to run as the 10th car on the stage following the road order selection in Ha’il on Saturday evening, prologue winner Al-Attiyah made a strong start and took the lead at the second checkpoint, but only six seconds clear of Peterhansel, who started 14th on the road.
But Peterhansel’s charge then came to an abrupt halt during the narrow canyon-like section of the stage as last year’s winner struck trouble before the third checkpoint around 99 miles into the test.
The 14-time winner suffered a broken rear axle on his Audi RS Q e-tron that forced him to stop mid-way through the stage. He and co-driver Edouard Boulanger are now awaiting the team’s assistance truck before their trip back to the bivouac.
Overall, it was a tough opening day for Audi as both of Peterhansel’s team-mates Carlos Sainz and Mattias Ekström encountered navigational issues before the penultimate split. Ekström had been running as Al-Attiyah’s closest challenger in second, while Sainz was fourth before getting lost.
“We got super lost on a very tricky waypoint,” said Ekström. “We lost almost 90 minutes there and Carlos even more, so not a very great day, but there are some positives to take from this. [It’s a] new day tomorrow.”
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That enabled Bahrain Raid Xtreme’s Sébastien Loeb to end the day second, albeit some 12 minutes adrift of Al-Attiyah heading into Monday’s first Marathon Stage from Ha’il to Al Artawiyah.
The nine-time World Rally Champion could at least content himself with the fact that he remains just about in touch despite suffering a pair of punctures early on.
“It really wasn’t simple, we messed up and started with two punctures before the neutralisation. There was no room for error in the second part,” Loeb said.
“The first part of the day dented our confidence, but everything turned out fine.”
Overdrive Racing’s Yazeed Al Rajhi lost over half an hour in the same section as both Peterhansel and Ekström, while road opener Orlando Terranova (BRX) shipped 28 minutes after getting two punctures.
The tricky navigation subsequently produced an atypical leaderboard after the first stage, with Benzina Orlen Team’s Martin Prokop emerging as the third quickest driver in his upgraded Ford Raptor RS Cross-Country, 21 minutes off the pace of Al-Attiyah.
Lucio Alvarez, who finished fifth on the Dakar in 2012, set a superb time in his Overdrive Toyota Hilux to place himself in fourth, ahead of the VRT Team BMW of Vladimir Vasilyev.
Al-Attiyah’s TGR team-mate Giniel de Villiers was another to suffer from a navigational mishap, finishing the stage seventh after running in the top five early on.
The South African, who overcame a COVID-19 scare pre-event, was five minutes clear ofGCK’s Guerlain Chicherit, who recovered from electrical issues in the prologue to put his bioethanol “Thunder” buggy firmly in the top 10.
X-raid Mini’s Kuba Przygónski, who started second on the road, is ninth ahead of Al Rajhi, with Cyril Despres and Taye Perry 11th ahead of Terranova. The latter’s team-mate and the third BRX Hunter of Nani Roma, however, endured a nightmare end to the stage, losing over an hour.
Ekström and navigator Emil Bergkvist dropped 1hr22m, while the SRT Racing pairing of Brian Baragwanath and Leonard Cremer lost 1h44m, having set an impressive early pace in their Century CR 6.
Ex-bike competitor and Acciona Sainz Extreme E racer Laia Sanz completed her first Dakar stage in a car in 31st place, 1h11 behind Al-Attiyah.
Stage 1 (Ha’il – Ha’il) result
1 Nasser Al-Attiyah/Mathieu Baumel (Toyota Gazoo Racing) 3h19m57s
2 Sébastien Loeb/Fabian Lurquin (Bahrain Raid Xtreme) +12m07s
3 Martin Prokop/Viktor Chytka (Ford Raptor RS) +21m21s
4 Lucio Alvarez/Armand Monleon (Overdrive Toyota) +26m31s
5 Vladimir Vasilyev/Oleg Uperenko (VRT Team BMW) + 27m52s
6 Sebastian Halpern/Bernardo Graue (X-raid Mini JCW) +28m16s
7 Giniel de Villiers/Dennis Murphy (Toyota Gazoo Racing) +32m43s
8 Jakub Przygónski/Timo Gottschalk (X-raid Mini JCW) +40m50s
9 Yazeed Al Rajhi/Michael Orr (Overdrive Toyota) +42m53s
10 Cyril Despres/Taye Perry (PH Sport Peugeot 3008 Dakar) +48m21s
Quintero holds early advantage in Lightweight
Red Bull Off-Road Junior USA’s Seth Quintero set the pace on the opening stage for the T3 Lightweight Prototype class ahead of two-time winner Francisco “Chaleco” Lopez Contardo.
Quintero headed team-mate Cristina Gutierréz to the tune of just over a minute before the fuel stop, before Gutierréz lost half an hour replacing a steering column. The other Red Bull OT3 of Guillaume de Mevius was also rapid in the first half of the stage but he too dropped time after the fuel stop.
That allowed the charging Lopez Contardo (South Racing Can-Am) to become Quintero’s closest challenger. Lopez Contardo, who won the event in 2019 and last year, started third on the road and initially lost time to his rival, but produced a sterling drive to end up just under two minutes adrift heading into the stage two on Monday.
Lopez Contardo’s team-mate in the EKS-run South Racing team, Sebastian Eriksson, set the third fastest time, some six minutes in arrears, with Gutierréz ending up fifth behind the MSK Rally Team Can-Am of Pavel Lebedev.
Andreas Mikkelsen finished his first Dakar stage in 10th, just under an hour behind Quintero, alongside long-time co-driver Ola Fløene, despite driving the last part of the stage in first gear.
In the SSV class, Aron Domzala holds the lead in his South Racing Can-Am Factory Team T4 alongside navigator Maciej Marton.
The Polish duo hold a 2m07s lead over team-mates Austin Jones and Gustavo Gugelmin, while Rodrigo Luppi de Oliveira lies third ahead of Michał Goczał.
The latter, second in the prologue to brother Marek, was quickest out of the blocks and opened up a 45s lead over Domzala before being overhauled at the 99-mile marker. He had been third at the penultimate split but lost over two minutes in the final section.