UPDATED: Robby Gordon 2nd after Stage 1; defending champ Roma meets disaster (VIDEO)

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With two weeks of hard terrain ahead, the competitors of the 2015 Dakar Rally didn’t push too hard in Sunday’s opening stage from Buenos Aires to Villa Carlos Paz, Argentina.

But a good start is a good start, and America’s Robby Gordon had himself one. The former NASCAR and IndyCar standout, along with co-driver Johnny Campbell, took the No. 308 HST Gordini to an apparent third-place finish in Stage 1 behind Mini pilots Nasser Al-Attiyah and local hero Orlando Terranova.

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But later on Sunday, race officials hit Al-Attiyah with a two-minute time penalty that relegated him to seventh. According to AFP, he was penalized for traveling at 68 km/h in a portion of the stage that had a limit of 50 km/h.

As a result, Terranova has been elevated to the top of the standings by 42 seconds over new second-place man Gordon.

“It’s exactly where we wanted to be,” said Gordon, who according to his team lost a minute on course because of him and Campbell having to secure a loose door on the Gordini.

“For us, the first stage was good, very conservative. We easily had a minute in our hands there but just didn’t push it. I think we’re going to be good.

“Johnny did a great job and we didn’t push anything. I feel good about where we’re at and where we’re headed and it’s going to be a good rally this year.

“We’ve worked very hard over the last year. Last year was an embarrassment and this year, we’re going to be on it from Day 1.”

Following Terranova and Gordon in the Top 5 are Toyota’s Giniel de Villiers in third (+ :50), Mini’s Krzysztof Holowczyc in fourth (+ :54), and Renault’s Emiliano Spataro (+ :56) in fifth.

Al-Attiyah, as a result of the penalty, is now down 1 minute, 38 seconds overall. This adds to a tough day for the Mini camp, which saw its reigning champion, Nani Roma, come to a stop early in the stage with a breakdown. Terranova himself said he saw Roma’s stricken Mini at the sixth kilometer.

Roma wound up losing more than six hours on course, and his hopes of a successful title defense already appear to have been obliterated.

Before he was penalized, Al-Attiyah called Roma’s drama “a big surprise.”

“We saw Nani stopped on the side of the road, but they [Roma and co-driver Michel Perin] were still inside their car,” the quick Qatari said. “It might have been an electric problem. A stroke of bad luck, that’s the way it is…It’s a big surprise, but it can happen.”

Peugeot’s triple threat of Carlos Sainz, Stephane Peterhansel, and Cyril Despres had a quiet opening to this year’s event. Sainz leads the Lions in eighth place (+1:44), while Peterhansel runs 10th (+2:13). Despres, a multi-time Dakar cycle champion that’s making his four-wheel debut, has dropped more than 10 minutes to the leader and runs 33rd.

“It was a bit stressful to tackle the first special when you don’t know how strong you are,” Peterhansel said. “You have to [avoid] early mistakes on fast courses that require good braking timing. We eased into the race without taking too many risks, gently, keeping a watchful eye on all the dials…

“We’re trying to learn about the car. We had no clue how far we could go. I wasn’t really at ease when taking risks and driving, I can still do better. I didn’t really go on the attack. We didn’t drive as much as we would’ve liked, let alone on courses as fast as this one.”

Coverage of the 2015 Dakar Rally starts Monday afternoon on NBCSN. Get your full Dakar TV schedule here.

Mario Andretti says Colton Herta could be next American star in F1

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Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.

If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”

The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.

Mario Andretti drives his Lotus-Ford to victory in the 1978 Grand Prix of the Netherlands (Bernard Cahier/Getty Images).

Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.

Scott Speed was the last American to run a full F1 season in 2006, and Alexander Rossi made the most recent F1 start by a U.S. driver in 2015. Rossi has said he has no desire to return to racing in Europe after winning the 2016 Indianapolis 500 and becoming an IndyCar championship contender.

But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.

“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.

“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”

Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.

Herta recently told RACER.com “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.

A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.

“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.

“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”

Mario Andretti with four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton before the Nov. 22, 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).

During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:

–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;

–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;

Mario Andretti Colton Herta
Mario Andretti and Kyle Petty saluted “The King” by wearing their Richard Petty-style hats during the latest “Coffee With Kyle” (NBCSN).

–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”

–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.

“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”

Watch the full “Coffee With Kyle” episode in the video above or by clicking here.

Mario Andretti looks on before the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26, 2019 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).