It’s on! The Dakar Rally 2015 is now in full swing and there’s already drama. It was widely reported that #301 Nasser Al-Attiyah and Mathieu Baumel won the Cars stage, taking the overall lead. However, a two minute penalty was levelled against the Red Bull Qatar Rally Team for speeding, which dropped them down to 7th and put #305 Orlando Terranova and Bernardo Graue in first place. Having another Mini hold the lead is great news for MINI ALL4 Racing but even better news for #308 Robby Gordon and Johnny Campbell because they’re merely 00:00:42 behind the leader. Third place is now occupied by Dakar stalwart #303 Giniel De Villiers and Dirk Von Zitzewitz in the Toyota Imperial Team South Africa Hilux Pickup. Team Peugeot Total is still in the mix with #304 Carlos Sainz and Lucas Cruz at 8th. #302 Stéphane Peterhansel said of their 10th place finish, “We’re trying to learn about the car. We had no clue how far we could go. I wasn’t really at ease when taking risks and driving, I can still do better. I didn’t really go on the attack. We didn’t drive as much as we would’ve liked, let alone on courses as fast as this one.” If you think that’s disappointing, bear in mind that they’re only 00:02:13 behind the leader.
#322 Cyril Despres is having the odd experience of finishing a Dakar Rally stage for the very first time on four wheels instead of two. He finished the day in 33rd place with veteran Gilles Picard, in the co-driver seat. Another famous newbie to the Dakar Rally but having a better day was #330 Romain Dumas who finished 19th. Dumas has a motorsports resume many drivers would kill for and is showing off his considerable skills in an MD Rallye Sport Optimus MD buggy with co-driver Francois Borsotto. We’ll share his onboard footage as soon as it becomes available. In case you think we forgot, the Coronel brothers are both still in their single-seater buggies with #347 Tim in 55th and #354 Tom at 49th for Maxxis Dakar Team Powered by Super B.
Defending champions, #300 Nani Roma and Jean-Paul Cottret, wish they had Peterhansel’s problem or anybody else’s for that matter. They finished the day in last place (135th). An oil pressure problem has put them over seven hours behind, which includes a one hour penalty. We can’t image how they feel right now. On the see-saw of emotion’s other seat, #6 Sam Sunderland won the Bikes stage and established a five second lead for the Red Bull KTM Factory Team. Now comes the hard part of keeping and building that lead which won’t be easy with riders like #7 Paulo Goncalves, #1 Marc Coma and #2 Joan Barreda Bort less than two minutes behind him. Luckily he’s fully aware of that as he told Dakar.com, “I’m a contender… for the first day. I hope I’m also a contender at the end, but we’ve only covered 175 kilometres and there’s still a long road before us.” #29 Laia Sanz finished in the top twenty at 16th and lone American bike competitor, #164 Antonio Narino, is hanging in there at 153rd.
Stage 1 saw some hot truck-on-truck action including an upset with #504 Petronas Team De Rooy’s Hans Stacey taking the top spot after a thrilling chase with #508 Marcel Van Vliet of the Eurol/Veka Man Rally Team. The top three was rounded out by Van Vliet’s new team mate #503 Ales Loprais who was a Tatra man last year. Loprais is a hard-luck case having suffered five abandonments over only eight Dakar Rallies. Hopefully the new team will bring him better results. Stacey’s boss, #501 Gerard De Rooy, finished 9th and defending champion #500 Andrey Karginov was 11th. However the highest finishing Kamaz – Master truck was #507 Airat Mardeev who is on the road to redemption after crashing out of the race last year. The only defending champion having a good day was #250 Ignacio Casale in the Quad class saying, “The stage was great and very fast. I think I did a good stage.” The field is tight with the top ten riders within only 00:06:45 of each other. With twelve stages to go, we have a lot to look forward to as the race progresses.
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