Qatar’s Nasser Al Attiyah won the first stage of the Dakar Rally from a posse of Volkswagens led by former world champion Carlos Sainz on Saturday.
Al Attiyah, winner of the UAE Desert Challenge, completed the 371km dusty run from Buenos Aires south to Santa Rosa in 2 hours, 36 minutes, 15 seconds in his BMW.
“It was a fairly easy route, but still quite fast,” Al Attiyah said. “However, it didn’t feel like I had to push it to the limit during the race.”
His BMW teammate Guerlain Chicherit was fastest through the third checkpoint but rolled his car onto its roof after 277km and it was uncertain whether he would continue. Hiroshi Masuoka, a two-time Dakar winner, suffered engine problems in his Mitsubishi, had to be towed to the finish and was nearly eight hours off the pace.
Sainz was 2 minutes, 17 seconds behind Al Attiyah, followed within two minutes by Volkswagen teammates Giniel de Villiers of South Africa and Mark Miller of the US.
The rival Mitsubishis, who have dominated the race since 2001 but changed cars and fuel this time, were on their tail with 2006 champ Luc Alphand the best at 4:44 behind in fifth, and defending champion Stephane Peterhansel 4:54 behind in sixth.
Marc Coma of Spain, the 2006 champion, won the motorbike’s opening stage and became the favorite with the troublesome runs of defending champion Cyril Despres and 2007 runner-up David Casteu, both of France.
“On this route there was little work to do with the bike, so I tried to avoid problems,” Coma said. “What has happened to the others could also happen to me. I saw that Despres had problems with his back wheel. After that, I tried to open up the gap.”
Despres finished 22nd and 41 minutes behind Coma after his KTM’s rear tire burst. He finished the special on his wheel rim. Casteu also punctured, finished nearly four hours back.