X-raid Mini JCW’s Carlos Sainz has taken the early lead of the Dakar Rally following a titanic battle with team-mate Stéphane Peterhansel on the opening Jeddah-Bisha stage.
The three-time Dakar winner and co-driver Lucas Cruz started 28th on the road after suffering a puncture at the start of Saturday’s prologue but produced a masterful display during the 172.12-mile test to take an eight-second lead into Monday’s second stage.
The X-raid pair were the ones to beat throughout the stage, with Peterhansel and new co-driver Edouard Boulanger first taking over the lead at the halfway waypoint from early leader Vaidotas Žala in the Agrorodeo-run Mini.
Sainz then moved ahead of Peterhansel by 32 seconds before the Frenchman reclaimed the advantage by seven seconds at the fourth waypoint.
Sainz fought back to edge Peterhansel by nine seconds before losing almost four minutes at the penultimate split following a navigational error. Despite this, Sainz managed to claw back an advantage in the remaining 34 miles after Peterhansel punctured to set the fastest time of 3h05m56s.
Former World Rally Championship driver Martin Prokop ended the day third overall in his Orlen Benzina Team Ford Raptor RS following a steady drive. The Czech driver started 11th on the road and gradually improved over the course of the stage to finish just over three minutes behind Sainz’s benchmark before a one-minute penalty was applied.
The first of 12 competitive stages which make up this year’s Dakar was a 386.49-mile journey from Jeddah to Bisha, of which 172.12 miles were timed sections. An almost even split between sand (48%) and soil tracks (49%) faced the 66 cars on the stage, with some faring better in the opening test than others.
After winning Saturday’s short Jeddah prologue, Al-Attiyah and navigator Mathieu Baumel had the somewhat dubious honor of opening the road in his Toyota Gazoo Racing Hilux. The triple Dakar winner endured a difficult stage, suffering a puncture and finishing over 12 minutes adrift of Sainz’s lead time in 10th place.
Al-Attiyah’s victory chances last year were largely destroyed by a spate of punctures (12 in total during the opening week), which led to BF Goodrich developing a new tire specifically designed for the Toyota team.
Another to hit trouble on the first stage was nine-time WRC champion Sébastien Loeb, in his first appearance with the Prodrive-run Bahrain Raid Xtreme Hunter. The Frenchman, co-driven by long-term partner Daniel Elena, had a double puncture early on and dropped 15 minutes before the first waypoint at the 23-mile mark.
With a start number of 19, Zala made the most of the comparably better road in front of him to post the fastest times at the first and second waypoints, the first of which was a minute quicker than both Sainz and Peterhansel.
TGR’s Giniel de Villiers had been the closest challenger to Zala in the opening split, just 28 seconds adrift of the Lithuanian, but slipped back down the order as the stage progressed.
Sainz and Peterhansel however made inroads, and soon made it past Zala approaching the halfway waypoint. Zala held onto third place until the final waypoint, when he dropped six minutes, and then dropped over a minute per mile after that to finish the stage 44m16s down and with extinguished hopes of a podium.
X-raid’s Orlando Terranova was another to suffer dramas after a strong start. The Argentinian lost over three minutes before the third waypoint, and eventually came 18th after dropping another nine minutes towards the end.
The two Century CR6s of Mathieu Serradori and Yasir Seaidan were up next behind Prokop, before a two-minute penalty handed out post-stage dropped Seaidan several places to ninth.
Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi’s privately entered Peugeot 3008DKR was promoted to fifth as a result, ahead of Loeb’s BRX team-mate, and 2014 car winner, Nani Roma and Overdrive Racing’s Jakub Przygónski.
Giniel de Villiers is eighth in the second TGR Hilux after he was also penalised one minute, with the South African dropping nearly four minutes and four paces to three punctures in the last section.
Gutierrez heads T3 class as Meeke hits problems
Cristina Gutierrez leads the way in the Lightweight Prototype T3 class after prologue winner Kris Meeke encountered problems before the penultimate waypoint.
Former WRC driver Meeke, driving a PH Sport-prepared Zephyr side-by-side, made an impressive start in his first Dakar appearance, leading the early going by over three minutes from Gutierrez.
Red Bull Off-Road Junior driver Gutierrez made inroads into Meeke’s advantage and took the lead of the class after the fourth waypoint, before extending her margin over team-mate Seth Quintero.
Teenager Quintero had his own dramas during the stage, losing seven minutes at the halfway point of the stage and a further five at the fourth waypoint.
Meeke’s stage began unravelling when he lost over 12 minutes before the penultimate waypoint, 62 miles from the finish.
The dramas continued as Meeke had still yet to pass the final waypoint half an hour after Gutierrez and Quintero had reached the finish.
Mattias Ekström, the 2016 World Rallycross Champion, currently lies 15th overall in the SSV class and fifth in T3. He and co-driver Emil Bergkvist are tackling their maiden Dakar Rally and finished SS1 just over 25 minutes behind Gutierrez, who like Ekström will be racing in Extreme E this year.
In the T4 class, Reinaldo Varela leads the way in his Can-Am XRS, beating Austin Jones by 28 seconds.
Francisco Lopez Cortado had led earlier in the stage but dropped time in the final stretch and lies third.
Stage 1 (Jeddah – Bisha) result
1 Carlos Sainz/Lucas Cruz (X-raid Mini JCW) 3h05m56s
2 Stéphane Peterhansel/Edouard Boulanger (X-raid Mini JCW) +25s
3 Martin Prokop/VIktor Chytka (Orlen Benzina Team Ford) +4m18s
4 Mathieu Serradori/Fabian Lurquin (SRT Racing Century) +6m33s
5 Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi/Xavier Panseri (Abu Dhabi Racing Peugeot) +8m13s
6 Nani Roma/Alex Winocq (Bahrain Raid Xtreme Hunter) +9m39s
7 Jakub Przygónski/Timo Gottschalk (Overdrive Racing Toyota) +9m46s
8 Giniel de Villiers/Alex Haro (Toyota Gazoo Racing) +9m59s
9 Yasir Seaidan/Alexey Kuzmich (SRT Racing Century) +10m10s
10 Nasser Al-Attiyah/Mathieu Baumel (Toyota Gazoo Racing) +12m34s
18 Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena (Bahrain Raid Xtreme Hunter) +22m46s
Overall classification after Stage 1
1 Carlos Sainz/Lucas Cruz (X-raid Mini JCW) 3h12m20s
2 Stéphane Peterhansel/Edouard Boulanger (X-raid Mini JCW) +8s
3 Martin Prokop/VIktor Chytka (Orlen Benzina Team Ford) +3m59s
4 Mathieu Serradori/Fabian Lurquin (SRT Racing Century) +6m13s
5 Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi/Xavier Panseri (Abu Dhabi Racing Peugeot) +7m53s
6 Nani Roma/Alex Winocq (Bahrain Raid Xtreme Hunter) +9m22s
7 Jakub Przygónski/Timo Gottschalk (Overdrive Racing Toyota) +9m22s
8 Giniel de Villiers/Alex Haro (Toyota Gazoo Racing) +9m43s
9 Yasir Seaidan/Alexey Kuzmich (SRT Racing Century) +9m53s
10 Nasser Al-Attiyah/Mathieu Baumel (Toyota Gazoo Racing) +11m58s
18 Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena (Bahrain Raid Xtreme Hunter) +22m27s