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The desert shows its teeth on opening stage of 2022 Dakar Rally

It did not take long for the 2022 Dakar Rally to take a serious bite out of its convoy of competitors. On the very first long stage of the rally there were some serious time losses as the desert dunes showed no mercy. Even those enjoying a clean opening stage remain vigilant of the dangers ahead.

It’s been an enjoyable return to the deserts of Saudi Arabia so far for three-time Dakar winner Nasser Al-Attiyah (QAT). Al-Attiyah and co-driver Mathieu Baumel (FRA) guided their Toyota Hilux T1+ to a stage win on the 334km loop around the Ha’il bivouac. The result follows on from their success on yesterday’s prologue.

“I’m happy with job that Mathieu and myself did today. I really pushed from beginning to the finish. Mathieu’s navigation was great. To finish day one with a good lead is an amazing start, but there’s still so far to go.” – Nasser Al-Attiyah

Sticking close to Al-Attiyah throughout the stage was WRC legend Sébastien Loeb (FRA) in his BRX Prodrive Hunter. Accompanied by co-driver Fabian Lurquin (BEL), Loeb limited his losses to Al-Attiyah on Stage 1 to under 13 minutes.

“It was a long and difficult stage. The navigation was really tricky today. The terrain was rough in places and we had two punctures to deal with. It was a hard stage to get things started.” – Sébastien Loeb

It was a tough introduction to the Dakar for the ambitious Audi Sport project. At the end of the day’s racing the best placed of their drivers is Mattias Ekström (SWE)
who finished over an hour and a half behind Al-Attiyah after a navigation issue on the stage.

Carlos Sainz (ESP) also lost over two hours due to navigational confusion on the stage. 14-time Dakar winner Stéphane Peterhansel (FRA) suffered a big impact on the stage which pulled apart the rear left corner of his Audi RS Q e-tron. Peterhansel endured a long wait in the desert for the assistance truck to arrive and help him get back to the Ha’il bivouac.

“I’ve always said that every single kilometre at the Dakar can be dangerous. Today after only 150km of our rally we got caught out and it’s not easy to accept, but this is the race. Like with every problem there is a chance to learn. Now our target for the rest of the rally is to do as many kilometres as possible.” – Stéphane Peterhansel

It’s been a full throttle start to the Dakar for Daniel Sanders (AUS) as he set the fastest time for the second day running. The GasGas rider backed up yesterday’s prologue win by leading today’s stage from start to finish. Could last year’s highest placed rookie be chasing an even bigger prize this time around?

“After the winning the prologue I started today in 15th. By the refuelling I was catching guys so I knew I wasn’t going too badly. Then I arrived to a place where a few others had made a mistake. I managed to find the way and hit the next waypoint.” – Daniel Sanders

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Nasser Al-Attiyah (QAT) for Toyota Gazoo Racing races during stage 2 of Rally Dakar 2022 from Ha’il to Al Artawiyah, SaudiArabia on January 03, 2022 // SI202201030093 // Usage for editorial use only //

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Nasser Al-Attiyah and Matthieu Baumel on the Toyota GR DKR Hilux T1+ of the Toyota Gazoo Racing during the Stage 2 of the Dakar Rally 2022 between Hail and Al Artawiya, on January 3rd 2022 in Al Artawiya, Saudi Arabia // SI202201030167 // Usage for editorial use only //

2018 Dakar winner Matthias Walkner (AUT) is just over 10 minutes back from Sanders and sits third overall in the bike standings after the rally’s opening weekend. Walkner is the best placed Red Bull KTM Factory Racing rider after Stage 1.

“It was tricky day for navigation, the rainfall complicated things for sure. It was a tough first stage. I was in a strong group and we came to the finish line together as fast as we could.” – Matthias Walkner

Navigation challenges put a bump in the road for many contenders in the bike race, with former winners such as Toby Price (AUS) and Sam Sunderland (GBR)joining fresh faces such as Camille Chapelière (FRA) in running into trouble.

“It was a bit of rough one today. There was one note that just didn’t seem to add up properly. I ended up getting lost there for over 45 minutes. It’s not the best way to start the rally but it’s still early days.” – Toby Price

Joining Al-Attiyah and Sanders in backing up a prologue win with victory on the opening stage is Seth Quintero (USA). The teenager led the T3 category throughout the 334km timed special stage to retain first place in the general classification.

“Stage 1 went really well. My mindset coming into this race was to go slow in the slow and go fast in the fast. That’s exactly what we’ve been doing.” – Seth Quintero

Applying most pressure to Quintero’s top spot is Chaleco Lopez (CHI) who trails him by less than two minutes.

“It was a complete day at the Dakar. Early on we had to fix an electrical problem in the car. Then things started to get very tricky with the navigation. We found a good way and we have to be content with our work today.” – Chaleco Lopez

It was business as usual in the truck race with Team Kamaz Master dominating on the opening stage. The stage victory was taken by reigning Dakar champion Dmitry Sotnikov (RUS), with team-mate Eduard Nikolaev (RUS) just 30 seconds back in third place. Two more Kamaz drivers – Andrey Karginov (RUS) and Anton Shibalov (RUS) – recorded stage finishes that see them placed in the Top 5 of the general classification.

Tomorrow’s stage takes the Dakar to Al Qaisumah via 339km of racing against the clock. Among the terrain on the race track will be a chain of sand dunes that will require special attention from all competitors. Due to flooding at Al Artawiyah’s bivouac caused by heavy rain and storms, rally organisers have been forced to move the finish of Stage 2 to the bivouac of Al Qaisumah, which will also host the Marathon Stage bivouac.