2020 Dakar: Tough and tricky opening stage in Saudi Arabia
Agrorodeo’s Vaidotas Zala clocks the fastest time in the opening stage, beating JCW X-Raid’s Stephane Peterhansel – Toby Price takes the win for the bikes
The Dakar Rally has reached its third chapter, with the location of the rally now being in Saudi Arabia, it goes back to its original roots of adventure in the vast desert sands. However, the difficulty quotient stays the same with close to 600km of stages each day for two whole weeks starting from the city of Jeddah and culminating in Qiddiya.
Terrain profile: 28% Sand | 35% Soil | 6% Tarmac |25% Stones | 5% Dunes
The opening stage would require the pilots to cover a total of 752km, which is 433km of Liason stages and 319km of timed racing. Defending champions Nasser Al-attiyah (Cars) and Red Bull KTM Factory Rally team’s Toby Price (Bikes) started first on the days stage. The Lithuanian team of Vaidotas Zala and co-driver Saulius Jurgelenas were in a winning groove too, with 13 time Dakar champ Stephane Peterhansel also in tether to close the gap in the special stages driving a Team Bahrain JCW X-Raid Mini. The other Bahrain JCW X-Raid Mini being piloted by Carlos Sainz and co-driver Lucas Cruz finished third.
Formula 1 driver, Fernando Alonso who has entered the rally with, Toyota Gazoo Racing, makes his present felt with an 11th place finish and a stage time of 3 hours 24.31 minutes. Anotherbig change this year is seeing Spaniard Nani Roma driving a Borgward BX7 instead of JCW Mini. With co-driver Daniel Oliveras Carreras navigating him, Nani managed to put the BX7 through its paces to finish in a commendable 16th place. As for the Toyota Gazoo Racing team, Al-attiyah, who entered the rally as a defending champ, kicked off his 2020 campaign with a fifth place finish in the first stage while teammate, Bernhard Brinke finished less than a mnute behind in sixth.
Toby Price, piloting the Redbull KTM Factory Racing KTM 450 Rally factory edition won the opening stage, with a lead of 5 seconds over Monster Energy Honda pilot Ricky Brabec despite 2 minute penalty Toby was handed after his roadbook tore 15km after starting the rally. Toby’s teammate Matthias Walkner ended the stage at the third spot.
Both the Indian rally squads – Hero MotoSports Team Rally and Sherco TVS Rally Factory Team – finished in the top 15. Hero MotoSports Team Rally had mixed results at the end of stage one. Paulo Goncalves finished at the 12th spot, Sebastian Buhler came in at the 31st spot while CS Santosh finished at 39th place. Joaquim Rodrigues who suffered a mechanical problem with his bike, was forced to retire from the stage. He will try for a re-start today (day 2) and will be the first competitor in Dakar to avail the new ‘wild card’ rule which will keep him out of contention for overall ranking but could be allowed to continue racing by participating in a separate ranking called “Dakar Experience” for the rest of the rally.
Sherco TVS Rally Factory Team had a good start with Adrien Metge at the 15th spot, Johnny Aubert and Lorenzo Santalino at 22nd and 26th spot. Harith Noah, in his maiden Dakar stage finished at 111th spot following a crash which damaged his navigation tower. He rode the entire stage with no roadbook and a busted eye.
The mighty trucks might seem like they are out of place but don’t be fooled by their size, these are purpose built machines. Take the Kamaz-Master truck for example, it makes 1150bhp from a 13-litre turbocharged six-cylinder engine while also boasting perfect 50:50 weight distribution. There are three crew members in each truck because, while repairs can be quite a challenge on the Dakar regardless of what you’re racing, when each tyre weighs 150kg it can make things quite a lot tougher. After stage 1, the trucks were closely bunched together at the top with only 11 minutes standing between the first 10 drivers, after 752km of racing!
Anton Shubalov and his crew led after the first stage in the Kamaz-Master truck, closely followed by the Belarusian crew in the Maz-Sportauto piloted by Siarhei Viazovich finishing just over one and a half minutes behind. Petronas Team De Rooy Iveco came in third place with Janus Van Kasteren at the helm, 3 minutes behind the leader. Three time winner Eduard Nikolaev came in 10’th place, 11 minutes 24 seconds behind the leader.
The Quad category was up for close contention between two times winner Ignacio Casale of Casale Racing and his rival Axel Dutrie. However the latter crashed out 134km into the stage, landing him his third consecutive DNF from the Dakar. Casale came first with a time of 4 hours 17 minutes 37 seconds. Rafal Sonik of Sonik Team, another former winner, finished 5 minutes 36 seconds behind him and he was followed by Giovanni Enrico of Enrico Racing Team who was 9 minutes 55 seconds behind the leader.
The second stage will commence today from Al Wajh to Neom which includes 367km of special. This will be the first part of the “super marathon” stage, restricting the elite bike and quad riders to just 10 minutes of maintenance work at the end of the day.