The opening stage of the 2018 Dakar consisted of a spectacular link section along the Pacific coast followed by a 31 km sprint near Pisco —the ideal warm-up before the first real difficulties of the rally emerge in the next few days. It helped competitors to get a feel for the dunes of the Ica Desert near Pisco (where the famous Peruvian brandy of the same name is made) before a beautiful downhill that gave specialists the chance to shine.
Defending champion Sam Sunderland stamped his authority on the race with a solid win in Pisco. The official KTM rider is the first leader, 32 seconds ahead of a stellar Adrien van Beveren (Yamaha). Pablo Quintanilla and Joan Barreda also came within striking distance, whereas 2016 winner Toby Price finished a distant 14th. Ignacio Casale sent a clear message to his rivals in the quad category by nabbing his first stage win ahead of defending champion Sergey Karyakin and Frenchman Sébastien Souday, who has yet to finish the Dakar despite three previous attempts. Meanwhile, in the car category, Al-Attiyah again showed his determination to end the reign of Peugeot with a victory that holds the promise of several more. The Qatari’s teammate, Bernhard ten Brinke, confirmed the stellar performance of the new Toyota while Stéphane Peterhansel was forced on the defensive. Aleš Loprais, on the other hand, took his sixth stage win in the truck category as he chases the overall victory that has eluded him so far. Martin van den Brink and Eduard Nikolaev are under 30 seconds back. Finally, Aníbal Aliaga gave Peru even more reasons to celebrate with a stage win in the S×S category on his Dakar debut.
Performance of the day
Bryce Menzies could hardly have hoped for a better start to his first Dakar. The American Bajas expert finished his first special in third place, a mere 38 seconds adrift of the great Nasser Al-Attiyah. He even beat team leader Nani Roma as the first Mini driver on the standings.
A crushing blow
The inaugural stage turned into a nightmare for Sébastien Loeb. Peugeot’s Alsatian driver found himself without functional brakes after just 3 km of racing. The nine-time WRC champion has already lost over five minutes to Nasser Al-Attiyah and will have to work very hard to claw them back.
Stat of the day
A mere 33 seconds separated Adrien van Beveren from a second consecutive Dakar stage win over Sam Sunderland. However, the French rider is on the rise and determined to pile the pressure on his English winter training companion and brother-in-law!
Quote of the day
Stéphane Peterhansel: “I didn’t feel comfortable with the headlamps so high. I wasn’t very confident, so I drove like a granny. I spent the entire stage on the defensive. Proportionally, we conceded lots of time to Nasser. Two minutes in 30 kilometres is a big deal. We need to ease into the race, things will work out.”