Mar del Plata – Santa Rosa de la Pampa
The opening stage of the 2012 offered a relatively easy welcome to the 400-plus crews entered for the event. The 57km stage included some small dunes as the route headed away from Mar del Plata along the Atlantic coastline. However, the stage still caused problems for some high profile entries, and unfortunately ended in tragedy for one rider.
Bikes: Lopez Leads The Way
After spending much of 2011 recovering from injury Chilean rider Francisco Lopez got his third Dakar Rally off to the best possible start with a stage victory on his Aprilia. Lopez, who missed out on the class podium on the final stage last year completed the stage 14 seconds faster than defending champion Marc Coma. Javier Pizzolito and Quinn Cody claimed the third and fourth best times respectively, both on Hondas, with Jakub Pryzgonski fifth on his KTM.
“The first special of the Dakar is always more challenging,” said Lopez. “Since you need to find your focus on the race, and the new GPS is somewhat smaller, so I really was very careful. Fortunately, the special’s last 20 kilometres were very fast and I was able to drive much more aggressively.”
Joan Berreda Bort was sixth – the best of the five man works Husqvarna squad, ahead of 22-year-old Dubai based Briton Sam Sunderland. Both Sunderland and Berreda Bort lay inside the top five at the stages first and only checkpoint, before Cody and Pryzgonski leapt ahead of them before stage’s end.
Cyril Despres – Coma’s great rival in the recent editions of the Dakar – was a comparatively lowly thirteenth – though on the short stage he dropped only 1:48 to Lopez.
After the stage had been completed by much of the field rally organisers confirmed that Argentine rider Jorge Boero had died after suffering a heart attack having fallen two kilometres from the end of the stage. Medical teams were with the 38-year-old within five minutes of his accident, but were unable to save him.
Quads: La Fuente Leads Depleted Field
After pre-event scrutineering the strength of the Quad class took a hit. The qauds of Lukasz Laskawiec, Josef Machacek, Christophe Declerck, Rafal Sonik, Antoine Leconte, Norberto Cangani and Maciej Albinowski were all deemed too dissimilar to the production models they were meant to represent and are so ineligible for the General Classification.
Even so Pole Laskawiec completed the stage second fastest behind Sergio La Fuente. 2010 champion Marcos Patronelli was the second best GC eligible rider, nearly a minute in arrears to the Uruguayan pace setter.
Tomas Maffei, Pablo Sebastian Copetti and Ignatio Casale completed all South American top five.
Cars: MINI Dominate Day One
Team XRaid took the top three positions in the first stage with three men from their five strong team running the MINI All4 Racing. However the presumed team leader Stephane Peterhansel was only the third of the three men after completing the stage in 32:21, four seconds slower than Krzysztof Holowczyc, who in turn was five seconds slower than Russian Leonid Novitsky.
“Today’s special was very short,” Novitskiy pointed out, “so we put the pedal on the metal, especially in the sandy sector. We only found another car on the course, but I was able to overtake it without any problems. In short: a good result for a perfect day.”
Giniel de Villiers was the best non-MINI, coming in fourth in his new Toyota Hilux pickup, Robby Gordon fifth in his Hummer H3.
Gordon, who started the rally with his usual jump off the ceremonial start ramp, had run second to his 2012 teammate Nasser Al–Attiyah at the intermediate checkpoint, but oil pressure problems struck the Qatari, who was running first on the road by virtue of his position as defending champion. Gordon eventually towed the ailing Al-Attiyah to the end of the stage, though he was still scored 38th fastest for the stage, losing nearly ten minutes.
“We had an engine oil pressure loss and preferred to wait for Robby to tow us to the finish,” said Al-Attiyah, “since we did not want to damage the engine. We will see, but this does not look good. And, whatever happens, this is not a good way to start the Dakar.”
Worse fortune still befell South African Alfie Cox was forced to retire on the opening stage, after his brand new Volvo XC-90 based vehicle was destroyed by a fire on the stage.
Trucks: Where Are Kamaz?
It may only be the earliest stages of the rally but there appears to be a serious threat to Kamaz’s recent domination of the event. The best representative of the Russian manufacturer was Kazakh privateer Artur Ardavichus who lies in fifth place during the first night on the Dakar. Meanwhile the best of the works Kamaz trucks was driven by Ayrat Mardeev who was eighth fastest on his 25th birthday.
Instead the top positions were shared equally between MAN and Iveco crews, Marcel van Vliet taking the best time for MAN, leading a Dutch 1-2 ahead of Gerard de Rooy, who avoided the same first stage disappointment as last year.
“I am happy to win the first stage, since I hoped to start the race this way,” said van Vliet. “We will see how things go from here. This is just the first stage, only 60 km long, and the race is obviously still very long. But, because we are a young team, people are not so focused on us as they are on the other big teams, but I think they will keep an eye on us too from now on.”
2012 Dakar Rally Stage One Results
|1||263||Sergio La Fuente||Yamaha||0:40:13|
|4||256||Pablo Sebastian Copetti||Yamaha||0:41:36||+0:01:23|
|4||301||Giniel de Villiers||Toyota||0:32:27||+0:00:15|
|1||507||Marcel van Vliet||MAN||0:37:45|
|2||502||Gerard de Rooy||Iveco||0:38:11||+0:00:26|