Picking up where Casey Currie left off last year, Austin Jones and Monster Energy Can-Am started the 2021 Dakar Rally with a stage victory in Sunday’s first stage from Jeddah to Bisha, posting a time of 3:44:00 to beat 2019 event winner Chaleco Lopez by 14 seconds on the day. Fellow Dakar veteran Reinaldo Varela was third, as the day’s podium was split by just 32 seconds.
For Jones, the victory was his second in two days in the SSV category. The second-year Dakar racer also won Saturday’s Prologue, an 11-kilometer route in Jeddah that served to set road placement for Sunday’s first stage. After an eighth place finish in last year’s event, second among rookie drivers, the victories marked Jones’ first times at the top of the stage charts.
This year’s Dakar Rally features a split between the lightweight prototype (T3) and SSV (T4) racers, with America’s top desert UTV racers spread fairly evenly between the two. Best in the Desert Production UTV champion Seth Quintero’s first Dakar began with third place in the T3 category on Sunday, where he’s facing off with fellow BITD champion Mitch Guthrie, WRC veteran Kris Meeke, DTM champion Mattias Ekstrom, and former IndyCar driver Tomas Enge. However, it was Cristina Gutierrez Herrero, Quintero and Guthrie’s teammate at Overdrive Racing, who drew first blood with the stage victory.
Gutierrez Herrero only received the call to compete in the OT3 a few short weeks ago. After a 14th place result in Saturday’s Prologue, the Spanish driver became the first woman to win a stage of the Dakar since Jutta Kleinschmidt, who was on hand to congratulate her at the finish line.
T4 sees Jones joined by fellow Americans Kristen and Wayne Matlock, taking on their first Dakar as part of a factory Polaris RZR effort after numerous Baja victories and Wayne becoming the first-ever UTV racer to win the overall SCORE title in 2018. The Matlocks helped America equal Spain with three racers in the top 10, with Kristen finishing ninth in her first stage and Wayne coming home 10th as the top two rookies in the division.
Unlike Sunday’s stage, Monday’s route from Bisha to Wadi Ad-Dawasir will feature more special stage than transit, 457 kilometers to 228. Monday will also feature the first dunes of the rally. Highlights of this year’s Dakar Rally kick off on NBCSN tonight at 7:30PM ET/4:30PM PT, before settling into regular airings at 6PM ET/3PM PT during the coming week.