Defending Dakar Rally winner Carlos Sainz edged out Stephane Peterhansel in the 2021 event's opening stage to establish an early 1-2 for the X-raid Mini team in Saudi Arabia.
While Czech Martin Prokop came third, Saudi contestant Yasser Bin Saeedan came in fifth place, only eight minutes behind the leaders.
Sainz, who suffered a puncture in the prologue and started 28th on the road, had a major setback when he lost over three minutes in the penultimate section.
But the double World Rally champion came back strongly in the final stretch of the day, winning the stage by 25 seconds.
The first stage started this morning from Jeddah towards Bisha, and extended for 623 km, of which 277 km were a special stage subject to timing, to begin the rally's journey in the desert of the Kingdom, which ends in Jeddah Jan. 15.
Commenting after the end of the first stage of the race, Peterhansel said: "We spent a long time in the midst of grass, bushes and tight turns, and we realized that the bodywork would be in poor condition at the end.
“So we had to increase the speed of the vehicle, but it will be different tomorrow because we know the second stage will require more navigation.”
Bahrain Raid Xtreme (BRX) made its debut in the Dakar Rally 2021, taking on stage one of the iconic race, that saw Sebastien Loeb and Nani Roma drive the 623km from Jeddah to Bisha.
Loeb and co-driver Daniel Elena, in the No. 305 Hunter, started the stage 10th on the road, but suffered a series of punctures early on due to the rocky conditions.
The delays contributed to 24 minutes being conceded to the stage winner, completing the route to Bisha in 03h 30’10, putting Loeb in 22nd place going into the second day.
In contrast, Spaniard Roma, and French co-driver Alex Winocq, in car No. 311, set out from Jeddah 15th on the road but completed the stage in 03h 15’35; consistently climbing up the rankings at each waypoint, finishing in sixth.
Commenting after the first stage, SLoeb said: “Today was one of the hardest stages I have had in the Dakar. We had our first puncture in a fast section of the stage, then shortly afterwards a second and a third puncture, so had to slow slightly, but thankfully I knew Nani was not far behind, in case we had another one.
“The car itself was great and no problems, so to lose just 24 minutes is a positive, given the difficulties we had. We will continue to push for the rest of the Dakar and anything is possible.”
Roma said: “It was a difficult day, and a challenging stage, but we are happy. We are feeling more confident each day, with Alex and I improving. The Hunter performed well on its first Dakar stage, so the signs are positive.
“For the next stage, we have open desert, which I am looking forward to; I really enjoy this type of driving, so it is going to be exciting to see how the car responds and performs.”
In the motorcycle category, Australian Toby Price won the first stage, half a minute ahead of Argentine Kevin Benavides, while Austrian Matthias Walkner is third.
The race did not start well for the defending champion in the same category, American Ricky Brabeck, who finished the stage in 24th after losing more than 18 minutes to the leader.
"We performed well in the exhibition stage, but then it was impossible to go through this stage easily, due to the large number of warning sounds that force you to press the brakes very hard to avoid danger.
“And this was a reason for losing a lot of time at this stage, and in general a first stage has ended and the journey is still long, and I must return and make up for this delay,” Barbeck said.
In the quad category, Frenchman Alexandre Giroud won the opening stage by 2m52s from Giovanni Enrico to give himself a 3m32s lead overall.
Spanish Cristina Gutierrez Herrero won the first stage in the light desert vehicle category, two minutes ahead of Brazilian Reynaldo Varela, who came second, while American Austin Jones came third.
In the trucks category, the Russian team led by Dmitry Sotnikov finished the first stage in first place, followed by the Czech team led by Alice Lopris in second place, and the Russian team led by Anton Shibalov completed the lead three, after finishing the stage nine seconds behind Lopris.
Saudi contestant, Yazeed Al-Rajhi (Overdrive Toyota), Orlando Terranova (Mini) and Bernhard Ten Brinke (Overdrive) suffered a disastrous start to the rally raid.
The Saudi Dakar Rally 2021 continues tomorrow, Monday, with the second stage from Bisha going towards Wadi Al-Dawasir, through an area full of sand dunes, covering a total distance of 685 km.
The stage is interspersed with a special stage of 457 km, in which the contestants set out to try to overcome the difficulties of this stage, which includes a lot of off-road rallying, before returning to the sandy tracks.
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