Past event winners Toby Price and Carlos Sainz kicked off this year’s Dakar Rally the right way on Sunday, winning Stage 1 in the motorcycle and car classes in the trek from Jeddah to Bisha. Today’s running featured 277 kilometers of special stage, held entirely on tracks, as competitors looked to start their 2021 Saudi Arabian adventure on a high note.
American and defending race winner Ricky Brabec won Saturday’s Prologue on the bikes, but struggled with navigation early in the opening stage to drop to a disappointing 24th at the end of the day. That opened the door for Price, who finished ninth in the Prologue, to take a 35-second victory over Red Bull KTM teammate Matthias Walkner and Brabec’s Monster Energy Honda teammate Kevin Benavides. Brabec’s struggles meant Skyler Howes in eighth and Andrew Short in 12th were the highest-finishing Americans in the class.
Sainz’s rotten Prologue, where he suffered a puncture and finished 28th, was quickly forgotten after a strong finish to the day allowed him to beat Mini JCW X-Raid teammate Stephane Peterhansel to the finish by 25 seconds. It was the 42nd career stage victory for last year’s winner, and his sixth since joining Mini two years ago. Prologue winner Nasser Al-Attiyah slid back to 10th, while Sebastien Loeb had a day to forget for the Prodrive-run Bahrain Raid Xtreme. Three separate punctures on the day dropped him to a disappointing 22nd, although teammate Nani Roma gave BRX its first top-10 finish of the year in eighth.
The first year of separate regulations for light prototypes (T3) and SSVs (T4) saw Cristina Gutierrez Herrero win the former class, and American Austin Jones pick right up where Casey Currie left off last year for Monster Energy Can-Am with a win in the latter. Gutierrez Herrero beat Jones to the finish by just over two minutes. Seth Quintero and Mattias Ekstrom finished third and fifth in T3, respectively, while Kristen and Wayne Matlock finished ninth and 10th in T4 to give the United States three racers in the top 10, tied with Spain for the most in T4 on Sunday.
France’s Alexandre Giroud built on his Prologue victory with a quad class win by nearly three minutes over Giovanni Enrico, while Dmitry Sotnikov’s truck win of nearly eight minutes over Ales Loprais was the largest margin of victory on the day. The inaugural Dakar Classic also kicked off with 24 entries, and Team Sunhill’s Marc Douton scoring 121 points on an alternate route where low scores are prioritized over time. American Amy Lerner ranks 19th in the division, running the Rothmans Porsche 911 that Rene Metge used to win the 1984 event.
Monday’s Stage 2 will feature the first dunes of the event as racers tackle 457 kilometers of special stage from Bisha to Wadi Ad-Dawasir. NBCSN’s coverage of the 2021 Dakar Rally will kick off tonight at 7:30PM ET/4:30PM PT, before settling into regular coverage beginning at 6PM ET during the week.