Nasser Al-Attiyah and Sébastien Loeb, two of the favorites for Dakar Rally victory ran into trouble on the very first stage, while Guillaume de Mevius went fastest on his debut in the car class.
De Mevius has stepped up to T1+ in a privateer Toyota Hilux after several years driving buggies, having finished third in the T3 class in 2023.
But he was one of two surprises at the top end of the timesheets on Saturday: behind him was Carlos Sainz in the lead Audi, who despite starting way down in 48th after getting lost on the prologue stage, is only 1m44s off the top spot in second.
M-Sport’s debut Dakar kicked off with mixed fortunes: Nani Roma went 17th-fastest on the new Ford Ranger T1+’s debut competitive stage but Gareth Woolridge limped to the finish with suspension damage.
But in the Prodrive camp, the army of Hunters did not get off to a good start.
Defending champion Al-Attiyah, who has switched from Toyota this year ahead of assuming his role as a factory Dacia driver in 2025, sustained multiple punctures and dropped over 24 minutes, ending the opening day in 22nd.
Loeb meanwhile had to stop and change a damaged suspension arm; his time loss was only slightly better at 22 minutes, slotting into 19th place.
Sara Price began her quest for SSV silverware with the third-fastest time on SS1, 18 minutes behind pace-setter Rodrigo Varela in another Can-Am Maverick.
Colin Clark at the bivouac
What’s going on back at base? Colin Clark has been touring the bivouac with his microphone – and tracked down M-Sport boss Malcolm Wilson for a chat about M-Sport’s first-ever Dakar stage.