Dakar Rally 2022, Day 1: Al-Attiyah takes lead as Sainz, Peterhansel face early trouble

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Three-time Dakar Rally winner Nasser Al-Attiyah remained atop the leaderboard after Day 1 of the 2022 event.

After winning the prologue of the car class Saturday, Al-Attiyah triumphed Sunday in the first stage, which he completed in just over three and a half hours in his Gazoo Racing Toyota. The special featured a 334-kilometer loop around the bivouac in Ha’il, Saudi Arabia.

“I’m happy with the job that (co-driver and navigator) Mathieu (Baumel) and myself did today,” Al-Attiyah said. “I really pushed from beginning to finish. Mathieu’s navigation was great. To finish Day 1 with a good lead is an amazing start, but there’s still so far to go.”

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The Qatar native opened a 12-minute lead over rally legend Sebastien Loeb as other big-name contenders for Audi struggled in the opener to the prestigious endurance race.

“It was a long and difficult stage,” Loeb said. “The navigation was really tricky today. The terrain was rough in places and we had two punctures to deal with. It was a hard stage to get things started.”

Carlos Sainz, who won the event in 2020, ’18 and ’10, was in 28th and more than two hours off Al-Attiyah’s lead in his electric hybrid Audi, which the Spaniard had been concerned about being down on power.

A heavily damaged rear suspension required lengthy repairs to the Audi RS Q e-tron of 13-time overall winner Stephane Peterhansel, dealing a serious blow to the hopes of “Mr. Dakar” defending his 2021 title.

It was a solid start for Seth Quintero as the American won the first stage of the light prototype division while some big names ran into trouble. At 19, Quintero is trying to become the youngest winner in Dakar history.

“Stage 1 went really well,” Quintero said. “My mindset coming into this race was to go slow in the slow and go fast in the fast. That’s exactly what we’ve been doing.”

In the bikes category, Daniel Sanders opened a lead of 3 minutes after winning the first stage.

Mason Klein was the highest-finishing U.S. rider in fifth. Other notable Americans: Skyler Howes (10th); Andrew Short (19th) and 2020 overall bikes winner Ricky Brabec (35th).

Brabec was one of several contenders who massively struggled with navigation problems on a course with a tricky waypoint.

“I feel like my rally is over,” Brabec said after falling more than an hour behind the lead. “I said the same thing last year on the first day, but I lost a lot more time today. I opened the stage really well today until I let my teammate past me for three minutes. I put a little too much trust in my teammate to maybe help me a little bit, so here we are. Really far back. I think we’re going to just finish.

“That being said, I hope my teammate Pablo has a good rally and we are here for him.”

Here are the top three in each category after Day 1:

Car

1. Nasser Al-Attiyah (QAT), Toyota Gazoo Racing, 3:30:53; 2. Sebastien Loeb (FRA), Bahrain Raid Extreme, 3:43:37; 3. Martin Prokop (CZE), Benzina Orlen Team, 3:53:32.

Bike

1. Daniel Sanders (AUS), GasGas Factory Racing, 4:38:40; 2. Pablo Quintanilla (CHL), Monster Energy Honda, 4:41:47; 3. Matthias Walkner (AUT), Red Bull KTM Factory Racing, 4:49:46. Other U.S. notables: 5. Mason Klein, BAS Dakar KTM Racing Team, 4:53:14; 10. Skyler Howes, Husqvarna Factory Racing, 5:03:52; 35. Ricky Brabec, Monster Energy Honda, 5:38:56.

Truck

1. Dmitry Sotnikov (RAF), Kamaz-Master 4:06:22; 2. Eduard Nikolaev (RAF), Kamaz-Master, 4:06:53; 3. Ales Loprais (CZE), Instaforex Loprais Praga, 4:16:20.

Light prototype

1. Seth Quintero (USA), Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team, 4:21:35; 2. Francisco Lopez Contardo (CHL), EKS — South Racing, 4:23:33; 3. Sebastian Eriksson (SWE), EKS — South Racing, 4:28:27.

SSV

1. Aron Domzala (POL), Can-Am Factory South Racing, 4:37:26; 2. Austin Jones (USA), Can-Am Factory South Racing, 4:39:24; 3. Rodrigo Luppi De Oliveira (BRA), South Racing Can-Am, 4:41:28.