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.

F1 tests: Mercedes innovates with wheel adjustment system

Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images
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MONTMELÓ, Spain — Veteran Kimi Raikkonen set the fastest time on the second day of Formula One preseason testing on Thursday, but Mercedes still garnered more attention by introducing an innovative wheel adjustment system.

On-board footage showed defending champion Lewis Hamilton pulling the steering wheel back and forth on the front straight to apparently change the angle of the front wheels on his Mercedes car.

The team stayed tight-lipped about the car’s new feature but guaranteed it was “safe” and “legal.”

“I probably won’t shed a great deal more light than what you saw on the TV but yeah we have a system in the car, it’s a novel idea,” team technical director James Allison told F1 TV. ”We’ve got a name for it, it’s called DAS, if you’re interested, and it just introduces an extra dimension for the steering, for the driver, which we hope will be useful during the year. But precisely how we use it and why we use it, that’s something we will keep to ourselves.”

Allison said governing body FIA knew in advance that the team was introducing the new system.

“It’s something we’ve been talking to them (about) for some time,” he said. “The rules are pretty clear about what’s permitted on steering systems and we’re pretty confident that it matches those requirements. I’m pleased we got it on the car, it seems to be useful, and we’ll see over the coming days how it benefits us.”

Hamilton said he was still trying to get used to the system, but praised the team for coming up with the innovation.

“I’ve only had one morning on (it, so) I don’t really have a lot to talk about with it. We’re trying to get on top of it, understand it, but safety-wise no problem today and the FIA are OK with the project.

“For me it’s really encouraging to see that my team is continuing to innovate and stay ahead of the game, and I think that’s down to the great minds in the team and so hopefully that’ll work to our benefit.”

Hamilton led the time charts on Wednesday but was only ninth-fastest on Thursday.

MORE: Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas fastest in Day 1 of F1 practice
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The 40-year-old Raikkonen, who has a chance this season to break the record for most race starts in F1, was fastest with a time of 1 minute, 17.091 seconds in his Alfa Romea. He was 0.2 seconds quicker than Sergio Pérez with Racing Point. Daniel Ricciardo of Renault was third.

Raikkonen caused a red flag near the end of the afternoon session when his car stopped on the track with an apparent mechanical issue. The Finnish driver had spun earlier in the session, as did Valtteri Bottas of Mercedes, Romain Grosjean of Haas and Pierre Gasly of Alpha Tauri, formerly known as Toro Rosso.

Grosjean had the most laps among the 13 drivers who went to the track on Thursday, with 158.

Bottas was the slowest driver of the day, while Sebastian Vettel was sixth-fastest with Ferrari.

Pérez had set the quickest time in the morning session. The Mexican driver had been third fastest on Wednesday, behind Hamilton and Bottas.

Drivers will be back on the track on Friday to close out the first week of testing. Teams will have another three days to test next week.

Preseason testing has been reduced from eight to six days to help compensate for the record 22 races on the calendar, including a new Vietnam Grand Prix and the return of the Dutch GP. Midseason testing also has been eliminated.

The season opens on March 15 at the Australian GP.

The Barcelona-Catalunya track will host the Spanish GP on May 10.