Mini’s driver Nasser Al Attiyah of Qatar competes during the Stage 1 of the Dakar Rally 2014 between Rosario and San Luis, Argentina, yesterday; (right) Spanish driver Joan Barreda in action during the first stage. Dakar Rally 2014 will run between January 4 and 18 in Argentina, Bolivia and Chile.
SAN LUIS: Portugal’s Carlos Sousa, driving a Haval, claimed the opening stage of the 36th Dakar Rally on Sunday, but double defending champion Stephane Peterhansel lost time after suffering a puncture.
Sousa finished the 180km special from Rosario to San Luis in 2hr 20min 36sec with Argentina’s Orlando Terranova, in a Mini, 11 seconds behind and fellow Mini driver, Qatar’s 2011 champion Nasser Al Attiyah, in third, 47 seconds back.
Sousa said he “suffered like a dog” after his Chinese-made Haval over-heated, sending dirty air into the driver’s compartment.
“Our car doesn’t have air conditioning and all the air inlets got clogged. After 50 kilometres, the turbo air outlet broke down and sent all the air directly towards me,” he said.
“It must have got hotter than 70 degrees centigrade and we had trouble breathing. The reason I drove so fast was that I wanted to get out of that inferno, but I really thought we wouldn’t make it.
“We suffered like dogs to earn it.”
France’s Peterhansel, in a third Mini, and seeking a 12th overall title (after six on motorcycles and five in cars), suffered a puncture and was down in sixth place, 4min 21sec behind Sousa.
“At 30km before the finish we had a flat tyre. Apart from the flat, I had good feelings with the car and the special. True, it wasn’t a great start, since losing three minutes in such a short special is nothing to write home about, but it’s a start nonetheless,” said Peterhansel.
Honda’s Joan Barreda clocked a time of 2hr 25min 31sec to take the motorcycle stage with Spanish compatriot Marc Coma, on a KTM, 37 seconds behind.
Frenchman Cyril Despres, the defending champion and seeking a sixth career title, was in third, 1min 40sec off the provisional leader.
“I’m really happy with the first stage. At the beginning I had some trouble easing into the race due to a slight problem with the suspension, but afterwards everything went smoothly,” said Barreda.
Despres, the champion in 2005, 2007, 2010, 2012 and 2013, said it had been an emotional day for him on his debut for Yamaha, having switched from KTM this year.
“I took some time to find my bearings and ease into my pace,” said Despres.
“The first special is always tough when you come from cold Europe and you get thrown into the thick of things, so I’m happy to get good feelings.
“I got a bit emotional at the start, what with starting a new adventure... It was a difficult year, with the decision to move to Yamaha, and then having to prepare the motorcycle, working with the entire team... So when D-Day comes, it feels good to be racing again.”
This year, 431 vehicles, taking part in the auto, motorbike, quad and lorry events, will cross Argentina, Bolivia and Chile.
But they could run into environmental protests along the way with fears over the impact of the race on the world’s highest salt flats at Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia, despite only the motorcycles being allowed to cross into the country.
In Chile, concerns have been raised over possible damage caused by the vehicles roaring over the Inca Trail.
The second stage of the race yesterday was over 400km from San Luis to San Rafael.