Stage 1 of the 2021 Dakar Rally is in the books with Carlos Sainz winning in the car class and Toby Price taking the top spot in bikes in a route run from Jeddah to Bisha.
Here are some of Sunday’s highlights:
In the cars class, Carlos Sainz beat his X-Raid Mini JCW teammate Stephane Peterhansel in Stage 1 by the slim margin of 25 seconds. Most of the time he gave up came in the second half of the stage as Peterhansel charge.
But Peterhansel was not happy with the result and fears starting up front could actually be a deficit in Stage 2.
“We spent lots of time in the midst of the vegetation, with bushes, tight corners,” Peterhansel said. “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. Starting late benefitted 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 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.”
Martin Prokop was pleased with his third-place finish, especially since he was beaten by two of the legends of Dakar. “Today was hard, both because of the navigation and because of the stones,” Prokop said. “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.”
Sebastien Loeb struggled in Stage 1 and gave up 24 minutes to the leaders.
Overall: Carlos Sainz holds an advantage of 00:25 over Stephane Peterhansel.
In bikes, Toby Price overcame a navigational error near the end of the stage, but was still able to beat Kevin Benavides by 00:31 in Stage 1.
Matthias Walkner was only one second slower in fourth.
It wasn’t a particularly good day for Americans. Skyler Howes was the highest-finishing U.S. rider in eighth, giving up a 05:25 advantage to Price. Andrew Short finished 12th and lost 08:50 to the leaders while Ricky Brabec lost 18:32 in 24th.
Pablo Quintanilla also was disappointed in his 20th-place finish. He lost 15:30 to the leader.
Erick Blandin was making his first Dakar start, but he retired after a nasty crash 127 miles into the stage.
Overall: Toby Price holds an advantage of 00:23 over Kevin Benavides.
SETTING THE LINEUP: Highlights from the Prologue stage
In side by sides, After Reinaldo Varela received a one minute penalty, Aron Domzala was awarded the win by 00:21 over Austin Jones.
Francisco Lopez Contardo finished third, 00:35 seconds back.
In lightweight vehicles, Cristina Gutierrez Herrero was able to edge Domzala and Jones by little over two minutes as this division is scored two ways. Also in a lightweight side-by-side, Seth Quintero finished 12th overall and third in class behind Herrero and Josef Machacek.
Overall: Aron Domzala holds an advantage of 00:15 over Austin Jones.
In quads, Alexandre Giroud waged war on the other quad drivers but won only 02:52 in Stage 1.
“The quad race was rather war-like today,” Giroud said. “It was a great stage! We got down to business. It was hard at the beginning because I was opening the road, so I got caught. You can see the dust trail of a quad from miles away. We then played cat and mouse for a bit.”
Giovanni Enrico finished second with an advantage of another two minutes over American Pablo Copetti.
Overall: Alexandre Giroud holds an advantage of 03:32 over Giovanni Enrico.
In trucks, Russia’s Dmitry Sotnikov spent most of the stage engulfed in the dust of his competitors but he set a strong mark in the opener with a 07:35 advantage over Ales Loprais.
“It was a hard day for everybody,” Sotnikov said. “All day long in the dust. It was a nightmare because we drove among the cars and the bikes.”
And Loprai agreed, saying “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.”
Sotnikov’s countryman Anton Shibalov finished only a few seconds behind Loprais in third.
It was a tough start for last year’s winner Andrey Karginov. His Kamaz suffered a mechanical difficulty that cost him more than an hour.
Overall: Dmitry Sotnikov holds an advantage of 07:35 over Ales Loprai.
Cars:  Carlos Sainz (Stage 1)
Bikes:  Toby Price (Stage 1)
Side-by-sides:  Renaldo Varela (Stage 1)
Quads:  Alexandre Giroud (Stage 1)
Trucks:  Dmitry Sotnikov (Stage 1)