Dubai: The 44th Dakar Rally got underway for competitors as they attack 8,375 kms over the next two weeks in Saudi Arabia for one of the biggest prizes in motorsport, with the three Bahrain Raid Xtreme team cars all finishing the opening day in the top-10.
Qatar’s Nasser Al Attiyah, a past champion, set the fastest time in first 19-km stage in his Toyota by 12 seconds from the Audi of Carlos Sainz as this huge sporting and engineering challenge got underway,
A total of 409 cars, bikes, quads and trucks left Jeddah, with over 2,500 people including 44 in the BRX team spearheaded by the three cars and six crew made up of Nani Roma/Alex Haro, Sebastien Loeb/Fabian Lurquin and Orly Terranova/Dani Oliveras in the Prodrive Hunters.
Using the specially blended Prodrive EcoPower sustainable fuel in the 3.5 litre V6 twin turbo engine, the cars produce 80% less CO2 and will save 28 tonnes over the course of the event.
With such a short stage as the opener, all three Bahrain Raid Xtreme drivers set their own pace over a surprisingly varied selection of terrain, but come the flying finish in the desert sands Sebastien Loeb was fifth, Nani Roma was seventh and Orly Terranova was 10th.
The drivers are now overnighting 810 kms from the start in Jeddah after a long road section before a 333 km stage on Sunday, looping around Hail in the mountainous landscapes of northern Saudi Arabia. It will be a stage riddled with navigation puzzles typical of the area and the spirit of the Dakar with big rocks in the early stages and some big sweeping sand to finish off.
Loeb said: “In the car and driving against the clock is where we all want to be, so it is a great feeling after the preparation we’ve all put in with BRX.”
Roma, the 2014 Dakar winner, said: “It’s really good to get started and get going on this Dakar. It was fast in the beginning and there were many broken dunes, so with the sun in your eyes it was difficult to see.”
The UAE’s Sheikh Khalid Al Qasimi and new German co-driver Dirk Von Zitzewitz had a difficult first day in their Abu Dhabi Racing Peugeot 3008 DKR, but the Emirati was relaxed after finishing the stage in 32nd place.
“We knew that it would not be easy with two wheel drive and a lot of sand on the stage,” said Al Qasimi. “We cannot have the right traction. But we’re getting more familiar with each other as driver and co-driver and I’m getting to know the car again after not driving it for almost a year.”