Victoria to Cordoba
Bikes, Quads: 192km; Cars, Trucks: 222km
After the ceremonial start on New Year’s Day today (January 2) saw the first day of racing in the 2011 Dakar Rally. The task – a relatively easy by the Dakar’s usual standards with a timed stage of 192km for the bike and quad runners, and a longer 222km for the cars and trucks. However, with only a day gone many front runners have already hit trouble, with lost time and some (very) early retirements.
Bikes: Faria To The Fore
For many of the 160 or so bikers who left the start for the day at Victoria it was a voyage into the unknown. While the new 450cc bikes stipulated by the rules have been phased in over the last year it was the first time many of the front runners had taken them on the Dakar. The switch, however, changed little at the top of the times, with reigning champion Cyril Despres leading through the opening checkpoints.
There were difficulties for some with the new equipment – Pal Anders Ullevalseter, who finished second last year ended the day already 13 minutes off the ultimate pace. “For 10 years, I used to brake early because I was riding a big 690,” he explained. “Now I may not brake late. I have to learn. I did not participate in any race this year. It will take me two or three days to adjust to this 450cc bike.” The Norwegian’s frustrating day was compounded by an early delay to fix the antenna on his KTM.
At the top of the times it was a stage long battle between teammates Ruben Faria, Despres and fellow KTM man Marc Coma – The trio spent most of the day with little more than a minute between them, but it was the Portuguese Faria who stepped up to take the first stage and beat the two riders many expect to fight for class honours.
“This special stage looked very much like what I am used to seeing in Portugal,” said Faria. “I am glad to know that in the end it paid out and I got the day’s best clock. I did better today than many great riders with different driving styles. It’s already a good point of reference. I am also very happy to see that my teammate Cyril Despres also made excellent time.”
Portuguese Paulo Goncalves was the only non-KTM rider in the stage’s top five, taking fifth on his BWM, one place ahead of Jonah Street‘s Yamaha. David Casteu – who won the opening stage last year – finished the day 14th fastest – nearly seven minutes in arrears.
Quads: Czech, Mate?
2010 saw the quads dominated by Argentines, the first stage of 2011 went the way of the Czech riders.
2009 class winner Josef Machacek took the stage win by 1m06 from his countryman and fellow Yamaha rider – the manufacturer swept the stage’s top ten – Martin Plechaty. Sebastian Halpern was the first Argentine home in third – just over three minutes adrift, while reigning champion Marcos Patronelli was ninth fastest, riding only a month after a serious injury in a practice crash.
Alejandro, the other Patronelli brother – the pair left the start ramp yesterday to considerable home support – finished the day fifth fastest.
Missing from the official timing at the time of writing is Polish rider Rafal Sonik, who spent much of day in the top five times before ‘disappearing’ from the tracker after six of the day’s seven checkpoints.
Cars: Sainz Picks Up Where He Left Off
After finally taking the win in 2010 Carlos Sainz immediately took the opportunity to open his 2011 with a dominant class win at the first attempt. As expected the day was dominated by the VW and BMW drivers but it was the World Rally champion’s Red Bull Touareg which posted the fastest time through all the checkpoints on the way to Cordoba.
Setting up what – mechanical and driving mistakes willing – could be a tremendous battle Stephane Peterhansel shadowed Sainz through all the checkpoints in second in his X-Raid Team BMW, the only man to penetrate the VW domination as Nasser Al-Attiyah, Mark Miller and Giniel de Villiers rounded out the top five.
Robby Gordon finished the stage eighth fastest – already struggling to keep pace with the 4WD pace setters as his 2WD Hummer slipped around on the tracks muddied by the heavy rain falling during the stage. He lost eleven minutes to the leaders. The rain led Sainz, once safe at the end of stage to liken the day to the Rally of Great Britain
Worst still was to affect Guerlain Chicherit and his gigantic, but minimally tested, MINI. Running competitively early the Frenchman was forced to stop on two occasions with mechanical problems that dropped him to (at the time of writing) record the 69th best time 57m45 off Sainz’s winning time.
“It’s hard. It’s very hard,” Chicherit said. “After 3 km we already had an alarm due to bad cooling. We managed up to 30 km before the end, then the brake discs gave in, splintered into the rim and blocked everything. I tried to unblock and go on like that but it was impossible. It’s hard. One year of work to get to this… it sure was a bad start. There is a lot of expectations on the car. A bad start indeed. Trouble is that tomorrow we will pay for today’s problems because it will be a long stretch and it will be very hard to pass other cars.”
Trucks: Chagin’s 57th Stage Win
In the trucks, too, the defending champion took the first stage win of the event, Vladimir Chagin, taking the glory on the stage by more than four minutes ahead of the Tatra of Ales Loprais, the Czech beating Chagin’s Kamaz teammate Firdaus Kabirov.
Eduard Nikolaev, in a third Kamaz rig was fourth fastest, but stage one was one to forget for the top Dutch contingent in the class. After sitting out the event last year Gerard de Rooy‘s 2011 Dakar lasted just 72km. Reports on the rally’s site describe the Iveco jumping into the air, de Rooy stopping soon after landing. Complaining of a back injury – he missed 2010 with a back injury – he was flown to the bivouac in Cordoba, having to abandon his race on the first day.
The other high profile (and vastly unfortunate) casualty of the day was Wulfert van Ginkel. On the connecting road section which took the competitors to the stage start the Ginaf driver reportedly had to swerve to avoid a piece of metal in the road, a wheel on the truck blowing out and causing the truck to roll. The result was a totalled truck and a rally over before it had begun – for once not an exaggeration.
2011 Dakar Rally Stage 1 Results (and overall standings):
1. Ruben Faria (KTM) in 1:58m02
2. Cyril Despres (KTM) +0:00m29
3. Marc Coma (KTM) +0:01m15
4. Juan Pedrero Garcia (KTM) +0:02:13
5. Paulo Goncalves (BMW) +0:02:18
1. Josef Machacek (Yamaha) in 2:14m07
2. Martin Plechaty (Yamaha) +0:01m06
3. Sebastian Halpern (Yamaha) +0:03:04
4. Rocha Sergio la Fuente (Yamaha) +0:03:10
5. Alejandro Patronelli (Yamaha) +0:05m24
1 Carlos Sainz (VW) in 2:18m32
2 Stephane Peterhansel (BMW) +0:01m31
3 Nasser Al-Attiyah (VW) +0:02:16
4 Mark Miller (VW) +0:04m17
5 Giniel de Villiers (VW) +0:05m06
1. Vladimir Chagin (Kamaz) in 2:44m22
2. Ales Loprais (Tatra) +0:04m41
3. Firdaus Kabirov (Kamaz) +0:05m52
4. Eduard Nikolaev (Kamaz) +0:09m16
5. Andre de Azevedo (Tatra) +0:10m35