318 vehicles took to the start line for Monday’s 454km route from Asuncion in Paraguay to Resistencia in Argentina with a special 39km timed prologue on Paraguayan soil.
With the starting order for Tuesday up for grabs, the drivers and riders had to navigate a narrow tricky circuit with broken terrain and sharp 90 degree turns which made for an exciting morning with mistakes inevitable.
Two-time winner Nasser Al-Attiyah had an eventful start to his race. After storming around the circuit in a time of 25.41 to take first place, smoke filled the air around the finish line as an oil leak combined with the intense heat on the stage caused a small fire to break out in the front left wheel case of his Toyota Hilux. He came to a halt shortly afterwards and had to be towed by teammate Giniel de Villiers, who had finished fifth, 30km to the nearest bivouac.
He said afterwards: “We did great to win the stage, but soon after we saw the smoke coming from our car. We caught fire and we stopped it which was big for us as otherwise we lose completely the car. A small pipe was broken which meant oil sprayed on the exhaust. There is not a lot of damage but we were scared to start the engine again and maybe get a bigger problem. Our mechanics will work on it tonight and we will be back on the road again tomorrow.”
Carlos Sainz leads the Team Peugeot contingent in fourth with Sebastien Loeb in sixth and defending champion Stephane Peterhansel in 12th.
Loeb said: “It was a bumpy, tricky route today and I don’t think it was the best conditions for our car. But it was fine and we got through the day the best we could, there’s still a long way to go.”
Cyril Despres said: “The stage started with a three kilometre straight over lots of rocks and that was a real battle. It was important not to make any mistakes today and we managed to avoid making any – that’s all you can do on a first stage.”
Peterhansel said: “The general speed was a little too high for me today so I decided to drive at a pace I was comfortable with. The stage was similar to races I have done in Brazil, I enjoyed it and the car was feeling great.”
The outsiders looked to have stolen the show on the prologue with a confident Xavier de Soultrait appearing to take the honours in front of Joan Pedrero and Ricky Brabec. His time of 28.20 was the fastest of the day, however, he was later stripped and demoted nine places after a speeding violation meaning Pedrero will start in the lead on Tuesday. Red Bull KTM Factory Team duo Matthias Walkner and Sam Sunderland are inside the top 10 while last year’s winner Toby Price was one minute and 25 seconds back in 17th.
Price said: “We got the job done today of starting the rally off in Paraguay. I opened the road today and that’s never easy on a Dakar stage. There was some wildlife out on the stage so I had to be careful to avoid that.”
Walkner said: “I tried to find a good rhythm and I think I got a spot in the Top 10 so it’s been a fine day’s work. There were plenty of hazards on the course such as deep rivers to cross so getting to the finish in a good position feels great.”