DAKAR RALLY DAY ONE:
It’s hot in Pisco. Yet the results of the first special were a burst of freshness, with Ignacio Flores and his quad seizing Peru’s maiden win. Meanwhile, Chile took control of the motorcycle category as Chaleco won the stage and two other Chileans got into the Top 4. In the car category it wasn’t a question of nationality, but of seeing winner Carlos Sainz’s car breathe new life into his palmarès. The buggies didn’t disappoint anyone in the first day of racing.
The consequences of the first stage will be forgotten in a few days, but what they experienced in Lima’s Chorrillos neighbourhood this morning is something that will remain indelible in the minds of all the participants in the 2013 Dakar. Perched above the beautiful Agua Dulce beach and the jet set Club de Regatas, the start podium presented the drivers and riders to the crowd. And what a crowd it was. It was great in terms of quality, as the President of the Republic came to the front row to cheer on the “Forza Inca” team one last time. And, above all, in terms of quantity, as the Limeños flocked to the hill slopes, the area around the podium and even the road the vehicles took on their way from the parc fermé.
Mr Ollanta Humala’s exhortations didn’t fall on deaf ears and, a few hours later, the first stage winner of this Dakar turned out to be… a Peruvian. The quads had the honour of kicking off today’s short special. Ignacio Flores, who was forced to quit last year’s Dakar just before the race reached his country, got his own back in the 13 km opener. The hero of the day was 11″ faster than Emirati Sebastian Husseini, who lived up to the expectations in his Dakar debut by outperforming Marcos Patronelli.
No surprises in the motorcycle race, which was also favourable to the host countries of the 2013 edition. Francisco López didn’t even wait for the rally to reach his country this time round. Chaleco, who rides a KTM for the Chilean Tamarugal team this year, grabbed his eighth Dakar stage win. He already won last year’s opener in Mar del Plata before eventually withdrawing during the eighth stage. Today’s runner-up Frans Verhoeven is also riding a new motorcycle this year, a Yamaha. An encouraging start for the Dutchman, but it was the Chilean armada that stole the limelight with, paradoxically, a great burst of freshness: Pablo Quintanilla and Patricio Cabrera, both younger than 25, finished third and fourth of today’s special, just ahead of defending champion Cyril Despres!
The hierarchy of the first day is rarely cast in stone, but the usual pecking order was also turned on its head in the car category. The Mini trio, Peterhansel, Roma and Hołowczyc, are still favourites to win, as a mere 37 seconds separate the first ten drivers. But, symbolically, the make-up of the Top 5 seems more favourable to the German manufacturer. Carlos Sainz marked his Dakar comeback by clocking the fastest time. True, it’s not a new sight for those who lived through the Volkswagen era. But the Matador took his 25th victory at the wheel of a buggy which he’s barely got to know and requires a completely different driving style. Said buggy looks ready to rumble from the point of view of sheer performance, with Nasser Al-Attiyah driving its twin to fourth place in today’s stage. The Toyotas were also up to the task, but it was Lucio Álvarez who got the most of his Hilux by finishing second, 8″ down on Sainz. Team SMG also raised questions on the competitiveness of two-wheel drive cars. With Guerlain Chicherit third and Ronan Chabot fifth, Philippe Gache’s two leading drivers were both faster than the Minis. But defending champion Stéphane Peterhansel limited his losses to a mere 34″. Things aren’t looking as bright for Robby Gordon, who ran into trouble from day one and conceded over ten minutes to his rivals… in just 13 kilometres.
But the defending champion wouldn’t have any of this nonsense in the truck category. Pisco saw Gerard de Rooy win his 19th Dakar stage victory, which was made even sweeter by the sight of his teammate and cousin Hans Stacey taking second place. The leader of the Kamaz team, Eduard Nikolaev, lies fifth in the provisional classification.