Reigning Dakar Rally winner Carlos Sainz has established an early lead in the 2021 event, heading the first stage in an X-Raid Mini 1-2.
Sainz and teammate Stephane Peterhansel dominated the opening 277km stage, which had competitors travel from Jeddah to Bisha across the Saudi Arabian desert.
The lead swapped hands several times in the early stages, with Nasser Al-Attiyah the first out of the blocks after winning yesterday’s Prologue.
However, Al-Attiyah paid the price for having to open the road and had relinquished a three-minute lead to Peterhansel at the quarter-way mark.
Sainz had started a lowly 28th due to a puncture in the Prologue. But soon he had scythed his way to the front, winning the stage by 25-seconds over Pertehansel and covering the stage in 3hr 18min 56sec.
In the general classification, Sainz holds an eight-second lead over Peterhansel ahead of tomorrow’s 685km journey.
“We spent lots of time in the midst of the vegetation, with bushes, tight corners… We knew the bodywork would be in pretty poor shape by this evening, but when you want to be fast, you can’t drive too conservatively,” said Peterhansel.
“Starting late benefited us a lot, but things will be different tomorrow if we have to open the road. This wasn’t our strategy at all because we knew stage 2 will feature even more navigation.
“Yesterday (in the prologue stage) we messed up, but we did well today. It’s one thing to have a plan and a different one to implement it. It would be better to start in fifth or sixth place tomorrow.”
Nine-time World Rally Champion Sebastien Loeb was expected to be one of the favourites for the stage win. But a dismal day impacted by three separate punctures had the Frenchman finish 24-minutes behind the Sainz.
Australian rider Toby Price claimed top honours in the motorcycle class, primarily aided by defending champion Ricky Brabec losing his sense of direction and getting lost
Price eased home to a win the stage and now holds a 23-second lead in the general classification over Honda rider Kevin Benavides.
Today’s second stage sees competitors covering 685km, including a 457km special between Bisha and Wadi Ad-Dawasir.