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.
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.