First stage of Dakar Rally in the books

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The 2014 Dakar Rally got underway Sunday with the first stage between the Argentine towns of Rosario and San Luis. Leading the way in the motorcycle category was Joan Barreda, who gave Honda the victory with a Stage 1 run of 2 hours, 25 minutes, 31 seconds – 37 seconds ahead of fellow Spaniard Marc Coma and 1 minute, 40 seconds ahead of defending Dakar bike champ Cyril Despres of France.

“The stage wasn’t long, but it was a difficult one,” said Barreda in a Honda statement. “We raced on hard-pack terrain with stones and blind corners. The course was twisty and you had to stay focused. I was doing fine, finding my rhythm soon and keeping it to the finish. I will enjoy this evening!”

In the car category, Portugal’s Carlos Sousa (pictured) collected the victory and sits 11 seconds ahead of Argentina’s Orlando Terranova. Qatar’s Nasser Al-Attiyah is third, 47 seconds behind Sousa.

The United States’ Robby Gordon, also competing in the car category, had a disastrous beginning to his 2014 Dakar and after Stage 1, he’s already two hours and eight minutes off Sousa’s pace.

“I don’t know what happened,” he said to the Dakar website. “Everything went smoothly when we took things easy on the link section, but from the moment we started the special [stage], we had vapor lock problems and we had to stop. Then, all the other fluids started to overheat, so we had to stop at least five or six times…

“At the end, we had stopped for the umpteenth time when Competitor No. 390 offered to tow us to the end of the special. Honestly, it’s strange, I don’t know why this happened. We’ll have a look at it in the bivouac, although it’s disappointing to lose two or three hours on the very first day of racing…It’s worrying.”

Ignacio Casale of Chile earned top honors in the quads ahead of 2013 Dakar class champ Marcos Patronelli (+ :21 behind) and Lucas Bonetto (+ 1:17 behind). In the trucks, Ayrat Mardeev of Russia leads by ten seconds.

Tomorrow’s second stage will see the competitors remain in Argentina and head from San Luis to San Rafael. NBCSN will begin broadcast of Dakar highlight coverage starting tomorrow at 5 p.m. ET.

New Chip Ganassi driver Marcus Armstrong will team with boyhood idol Scott Dixon

Marcus Armstrong Scott Dixon
Joe Portlock - Formula 1/Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images
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Marcus Armstrong was a Scott Dixon fan his entire life, and when he was 8, the aspiring young racer asked his fellow New Zealander to autograph a helmet visor that he hung on his bedroom wall.

Next year, Armstrong will be Dixon’s teammate.

Armstrong was named Friday as the fourth IndyCar driver in the Chip Ganassi Racing lineup and will pilot the No. 11 next season on road and street courses.

A driver for the five oval races on the 17-race schedule will be named later.

The No. 11 is essentially the No. 48 that seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson drove the last two seasons, with Chip Ganassi making the change to run four cars numbered in sequential order. Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson drives the No. 8, six-time champion Dixon drives the No. 9, and 2020 IndyCar champion Alex Palou drives the No. 10.

So just who is the second Kiwi in the Ganassi lineup?

A 22-year-old who spent the past three seasons in Formula One feeder series F2, a Ferrari development driver in 2021, and former roommate of Callum Illot and former teammate of Christian Lundgaard – both of whom just completed their rookie IndyCar seasons.

“I’ve always been attracted to the IndyCar championship because it’s one of those championships that’s been really well televised in New Zealand since I was young, mainly because of Scott and his success,” Armstrong told The Associated Press. “As time progressed, as I got closer to F1 and single-seaters, the attraction to IndyCar grew just because of how competitive the championship is – I like to challenge myself and the level of competition in IndyCar is remarkably high.”

Armstrong, from Christchurch, New Zealand, was set to travel from his current home in London to Indianapolis this weekend to meet his new team. He won’t need an introduction to Dixon, the 42-year-old considered the best IndyCar driver of his generation and Armstrong’s unequivocal childhood hero.

Last season, Dixon earned his 53rd career victory to pass Mario Andretti for second on the all-time list. Dixon has driven for Ganassi in all but 23 of his 345 career starts.

“For a long time I’ve been a Scott Dixon fan. I don’t want to make him cringe with our age difference,” Armstrong told the AP.

Despite the two-decade age difference, Armstrong never considered someday racing with Dixon a fantasy.

He convinced his father after winning five national karting championships to allow him to leave New Zealand for Italy at age 14, where he moved by himself to pursue a racing career. Armstrong said as soon as he’d received parental permission, he’d never look back.

Armstrong was in Formula 4 two years after his move to Italy and won that title in his first season. He won four races and four poles in F3 in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, then collected four wins and eight podiums in three seasons of F2.

“Maybe it’s a strength, or maybe it’s a weakness, but I always thought I was capable of doing great in the sport,” Armstrong told the AP. “I think you probably have to succeed in the sport, you need to believe in yourself. I always pictured myself being in IndyCar.

“As Scott’s teammate? I can’t specifically say I saw that. It’s an extraordinary chain of events.”

Armstrong becomes just the latest driver to leave Europe, where F1 is the pinnacle but has only 20 seats each year. Alexander Rossi began the trend in 2016 when the American left F1 and won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie. He’s been followed by Ericsson, last season’s Indy 500 winner, Romain Grosjean, Illot, Lundgaard, and on Thursday three-time W Series champion and Williams F1 reserve driver Jamie Chadwick was announced as driver for Andretti Autosport in IndyCar’s second-tier development series.

Armstrong said he could have remained in F2 for a fourth season, but he’d been watching IndyCar for so long, and after conversations with Illot and Lundgaard, he decided to make the move to what he believes is the most balanced racing series in the world. He tested for Dale Coyne Racing at Sebring in October.

He doesn’t know if European racing is done for good, just that he wants to be in IndyCar right now.

“I don’t want to think too far into the future, I’m just grateful for this opportunity that is standing right in front of me,” Armstrong said. “I want to perform as well as I can in the near future and just consolidate myself in the fantastic chance that is IndyCar and just do my best.

“I’m not looking at F1 as a landing spot – I am looking at IndyCar, and that’s exactly why I am here.”