Dakar Stage 1 Highlights: Ricky Brabec, Casey Currie lead Americans

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The 41st running of the Dakar Rally got underway Monday with a total of 334 vehicles ready to contest a route that will be held entirely in Peru.

In the cars class, Nasser Al-Attiyah drew the first victory in his Toyota. Carlos Sainz was only 1 minute 59 seconds behind in a Mini with Jakub Przygonski rounding out the podium one second behind Sainz. … Making his 12th Dakar start and first after a two-year hiatus, Robby Gordon finished 21st in the stage (8:28 behind the leader) in his Textron. … Sebastian Loeb also got off to a slow start in Stage 1. Sand has never been his favorite part of any rally and he finished more than six minutes behind Al-Attiyah in 13th.

In motorcycles, Joan Barreda scored the stage win in a Honda. Pablo Qunitanilla in a Husqvarna ended the stage 1:34 behind in second. USA’s Ricky Brabec had the best showing among the Americans with his third-place finish 2:52 behind. Andrew Short was the next highest finishing American in 13th. … Gabor Saghmeister became the first rider to withdraw from the 2019 Dakar.

In side by sides, the 2018 winner, 59-year old Reinaldo Varela won the stage over Francisco Lopez (1:27 behind) and Gerald Farres (2:32 behind). American Casey Currie was 4:55 behind in sixth in a stage where he took extra time to keep from making any mistakes.

“Day 1 of Dakar finally in the books,” Currie said. “We had a game plan; we wanted a good top-10 finish. We just wanted to drive through the stage without getting lost, without getting a puncture and not break anything. And we did it. In the river bed, there was a lot of rocks. I’m not kidding you I could have walked faster. I just wanted to take my time and get through Stage 1.”

In quads, Nicolas Cavigliasso finished 1:27 ahead of Jeremias Gonzalez and 2:32 ahead of Tomas Kubiena.

In trucks, Eduard Nikolaev, Ton Van Genugten, and Federico Villagra took the top three spots. But it was Gerard de Rooy who created the most drama of the day. Running second at the halfway mark of the start, he set a wheel on fire and finished the stage fourth.

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Indy 500 analyst role part of looking forward for Danica Patrick

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It’s been 10 months since Danica Patrick last competed in an auto racing event and she is completely fine with that.

Patrick was last seen in a cockpit in last May’s Indianapolis 500, part of her mini-retirement tour from racing that also included a run in the Daytona 500.

Now she’ll be back at the track, serving as an analyst for NBC’s broadcast of the 103rd Indy 500 on May 26.

It will be an interlude to her post-racing career.

“I really don’t miss racing,” Patrick said during a teleconference Wednesday.  “I’m really happy. I selfishly set out (with) the intention I wanted to travel a lot. I’ve definitely done that. Also working on my other businesses.”

Without racing, Patrick is able to look over her “Warrior” clothing line and her Somnium wine. She’s also been a host of ESPN’s Espy Awards show.

“I’m not a look-back kind of person, I’m a look-forward (person),” Patrick said. “This is something that’s part of looking forward. This is something totally new and different for me. It’s coming at a place where I have a lot of history, but it hasn’t been my job, which is why I’m going to work really hard to make sure I’m ready, like anything else I do that’s different.

Since retiring, Patrick said she watches racing “when I can.”

“I’m not going to lie, I’m happy doing what I’m doing,” Patrick said. “It’s allowed me new opportunities like this.”

This won’t be the first time Patrick has served in an analyst role for a race. She did the same for some Xfinity Series race broadcasts in the last few years of her NASCAR career.

“It’s very good to have had that experience,” Patrick said. “Obviously I was giving my driving experience sort of perspective and that insight, which is something I’m going to be doing again. But it was a guest spot.

“This is firm and established, part of a small team of two with Mike (Tirico) and I. I think there’s going to be a lot more preparation involved, I’m going to need to know a lot more information.”

Patrick said there will be one difference in her Indy 500 experience this year compared to the eight times she competed in the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

“I didn’t purposely look at the buildup of the day,” Patrick said. “I didn’t want to see the fans rolling in, all the pomp and circumstance. I really liked to keep it quiet. I wanted to just walk out there and have it be the event, not let myself get built up too much in my head with nerves, just the platform, the iconic event that it was, the millions of people. I just wanted to stay focused and go do it.

“This time, I’m sure I will see the buildup. I’m sure I’ll see the place fill in and turn from a quiet, peaceful, magical place, (and) at the shot of a cannon it’s going to start unraveling. That will be a cool perspective for me that I purposely haven’t really watched closely.”

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