Defending champion Sainz off to winning start at Dakar Rally - GulfToday

Defending champion Sainz off to winning start at Dakar Rally

Dakar Rally

Mini’s Spanish driver Carlos Sainz and co-driver Lucas Cruz compete during Stage 1 of the 2021 Dakar Rally on Sunday. Agence France-Presse

Defending champion Carlos Sainz won the first stage of the Dakar Rally on Sunday in Saudi Arabia with the kingdom hosting motorsport’s most punishing event for the second year since its move from South America.

The Spaniard, a three-time Dakar winner, covered the 277km special between Jeddah and Bisha in his Mini Buggy in 3hr 18min 56sec.

Sainz, whose son Carlos drives for Ferrari in Formula One, finished 25sec ahead of French teammate Stephane Peterhansel after a gripping see-saw battle which record 13-time champion Peterhansel appeared to have won until Sainz stormed home to deny his celebrated rival.

Czech Martin Prokop (Ford) completed the first day’s car podium.

While Sainz leads Peterhansel by eight seconds in the fledgling standings, for another luminary of the rally world the 2021 Dakar had barely begun before it was all but over.

Nine-time world rally champion Sebastien Loeb trails by more than 24 minutes after a day to forget.

“I’ve rarely had such a terrible stage,” the Frenchman lamented, after three punctures.

In the motorbike category Australian Toby Price began his quest for a third crown in style, taking the first stage honours by more than half a minute from Argentine Kevin Benavides (Honda) and his KTM teammate, Matthias Walkner of Austria.

But the opening day proved tough going for reigning champion Ricky Brabec, Honda’s American rider who trailed in almost 20 minutes behind Price after losing his way in the early part of the 277km special.

Monday’s second stage sees competitors covering 685km, including a 457km special, between Bisha and Wadi Ad-Dawasir featuring the first taste of racing in dunes.

Launched in 1979 between Paris and the Senegalese capital Dakar, the celebrated endurance challenge moved to Saudi Arabia for the first time last year after a decade in South America, sparking angry reaction from human rights organisations who accused the kingdom of ‘sports-washing’. The rally concludes back in Jeddah on Jan.15.

Dmitry Sotnikov’s crew of the Russian Team Kamaz-Master won Stage 1 of the 2021 Dakar Rally in the truck category, underway in Saudi Arabia.

The first stage covered a distance of 277 kilometers. Czech Republic’s Ales Loprais of Instaforex Loprais Praga came second losing 7 minutes 56 seconds. Russian Anton Shibalov’s crew was third (+8.07), according to Russian news agency

Russian Airat Mardeev’s crew was tenth (+25.53). The truck of reigning Dakar Rally Champion Andrei Karginov (Russia) broke down, when its radiator fan shattered into pieces in the 121st kilometer.

Sotnikov tops the 2021 Dakar Rally truck standings after Prologue and Stage 1, followed by Loprais (+7.35) and then Shibanov (+7.44). Mardeev is ranked tenth (+26.31).

Four squads of Russia’s Team Kamaz-Master were registered for the most prestigious annual rally raid, including the crew of reigning World Champion Andrei Karginov.

Since the late 1990s, the Kamaz Master team dominated the truck category, winning a record number of 17 prestigious rally raids.

The ever-consistent Loprais is a serious contender for the overall podium.

“It was quite hard for an opening stage. There were loads of rocks and dust. It was hard to make our way among the buggies and overtake them, but in the end we finished in a good position,” said Loprais

Meanwhile, the winner of the first stage, Sotnikov, and his crew had a difficult day in the office due to the dust trails of the vehicles in front of their Kamaz.

“It was a hard day for everybody. All day long in the dust. It was a nightmare because we drove among the cars and the bikes. There were also lots of trees and rocks...”

Third in the special to Bisha, the Czech driver was only beaten by Sainz and Peterhansel. He is ready to compete with the big boys.

“Today was hard, both because of the navigation and because of the stones. There were loads of them. But the car is performing well and I think we did rather well. I don’t know if the result is going to change… but it ain’t half bad.”

The French private driver is here to rain on the favourites’ parade… and finished fourth today.

“It was a hard day for everyone. We’re glad the stage is over.

“We set the tone for the Dakar. There were plenty of changes of pace. We weren’t reckless, but we pushed hard all day long.

“We made a few mistakes here and there, but we’re in good company in this regard. Fabien did a sterling job with the navigation, putting me back on track after I got into a tight spot two or three times. We jumped into all the right wadis.”

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