The 2020 Dakar Rally has burst into life with an opening stage that gave competitors a stern wake up call – 319 kilometres against the clock. The first ever Dakar stage to be held in Saudi Arabia represented a new start for all 342 vehicles entered into the rally. As well as a few familiar faces taking early leads, we also have a crop of intriguing newcomers to keep an eye on.
It was an pre-sunrise start for the Dakar convoy after Saturday night’s Start Podium in the city of Jeddah. The bikes set off first on the desert route to Al Wajh, followed by the quads, cars, side-by-sides and finally the trucks.
It was a mixed opening SxS stage for the members of Red Bull Off-Road Team USA. Mitch Guthrie Jr. (USA) scored a Top 10 on his first ever Dakar stage while his team-mate Blade Hildebrand (USA) is looking to claw back 35 minutes on Domżała and the other frontrunners on the coming stages.
“This was my very first Dakar stage and it feels great to just get over the line.” – Mitch Guthrie Jr.
The coaching crew of Cyril Despres (FRA) and Mike Horn (SUI) were placed in the Top 5 of the SxS race in their 1000cc OT3 buggy up until kilometre 254 of the stage. For the final 60 kilometres of the stage their progress was hampered by overheating issues, but they battled on to cross the finish line.
“I have to say the terrain was beautiful; mountains, rocky areas, riverbeds and the most amazing passage through the dunes. You could really see the variation of the terrain that makes this rally so special.” – Mike Horn
The opening bike stage win went to reigning champion Toby Price (AUS). Despite his roadbook locking up on him, and then tearing completely, he was still able to post the fastest time of day. Just five seconds back from Price is Ricky Brabec (USA), followed 35 seconds later by Matthias Walkner (AUT).
“Once the roadbook has gone you’re pretty much driving blind.” – Toby Price
Price and Walkner’s fellow Red Bull KTM Factory Team riders, Sam Sunderland (GBR) and Luciano Benavides (ARG), are also well placed within the Top 10 after the first day of racing. If the team are going to extend their remarkable record of 18 consecutive Dakar wins, they’ll need one of this foursome in top spot after stage 12.
The surprise winner on the opening day of the car race is Vaidotas Zala (LTU) who led home a star-studded field of offroad competitors. While Zala holds the overnight lead he will be aware of 13-time winner Stéphane Peterhansel (FRA) breathing down his neck in second overall.
In third place is Peterhansel’s fellow MINI Buggy driver Carlos Sainz (ESP), just one place ahead of defending car class champion Nasser Al-Attiyah (QAT). Al-Attiyah led the stage for most of the day before a succession of punctures plagued his Toyota Hilux late in the stage.
“We had three punctures to stop and fix. We had to stop every two or three kilometres to fix a rear wheel, very strange.” – Nasser Al-Attiyah
Aron Domżała (POL) is the first side-by-side driver to register a stage win at the 2020 Dakar. However, defending SxS champion Chaleco Lopez (CHI) is less than seven minutes behind in fourth place.
Over in the truck race it hasn’t taken long for Team Kamaz Master to scale the leaderboard. Anton Shibalov (RUS) leads the race with his three fellow Kamaz drivers all well positioned to assert their dominance over the early rounds of this first Saudi Arabian Dakar.
There looks to be a battle Royale shaping up in the quad category. Two-time winner Ignacio Casale (CHI) took the opening stage and leads another former champ Rafał Sonik (POL) by 5m36s at the summit.
“Navigation was tough today and I can see that being a feature of this race.” – Ignacio Casale
After an overnight stay in the Al Wajh bivouac, the Dakar moves off to Neom in northwestern Saudi Arabia. The timed special stage of 367 kilometres will offer the riders spectacular views of the Red Sea as well as plenty of navigational challenges along the way.
The 2020 Dakar finishes on Friday, January 17 in Al-Qiddiya. Keep up-to-date with the entire Red Bull Desert Wings convoy on Red Bull Motorsports’ social media: Red Bull Motorsport Instagram / Facebook / Twitter / Desert Wings Instagram
2020 Dakar Rally Stage 1 Results
Side-by-side Race Top 3
- Aron Domzala (POL) Can-AM 04:00:58
- Casey Currie (USA) Can-Am +01m51s
- Jose Antonio Hinojo Lopez (ESP) Can-Am +05m49s
2020 Dakar Rally Car Race Top 5
- Vaidotas Zala (LTU) MINI Rally 03h19m04s
- Stéphane Peterhansel (FRA) MINI Buggy +02m14s
- Carlos Sainz (ESP) MINI Buggy +02m50s
- Nasser Al-Attiyah (QAT) Toyota +05m33s
- Bernhard Ten Brinke (NDL) Toyota +06m30s
2020 Dakar Rally Bike Race Top 5 (after first stage)
- Toby Price (AUS) KTM 03h21m33s
- Ricky Brabec (USA) Honda +05s
- Matthias Walkner (AUT) KTM +40s
- Kevin Benavides (ARG) Honda +02m31s
- Sam Sunderland (GBR) KTM +03m15s
2020 Dakar Rally Truck Race Top 5 (after first stage)
- Anton Shibalov (RUS) Kamaz 03h40m35s
- Siarhei Viazovich (BLR) Maz +01m33s
- Janus Van Kasteren (NDL) Iveco +03:09
- Dmitry Sotnikov (RUS) Kamaz +04m07s
- Martin Macik (CZE) Iveco +04:52
2020 Dakar Rally Quad Race Top 3 (after first stage)
- Ignacio Casale (CHI) Yamaha 04h17m37s
- Rafał Sonik (POL) Yamaha 05m36s
- Tomáš Kubiena (CZE) Yahama 06m55s
Story and photos courtesy of RedBull.com