Dakar: X-Raid BMW stage one report

CHICHERIT LEADS X-RAID CHALLENGE WITH FINE FIFTH PLACE IN PORTUGAL Wheel problems for Qatar's Al-Attiyah PORTIMAO (Portugal): The quartet of BMWs taking part in the 28th Dakar Rally as part of the X-Raid Team completed the opening timed 83 kms...

CHICHERIT LEADS X-RAID CHALLENGE WITH FINE FIFTH PLACE IN PORTUGAL
Wheel problems for Qatar's Al-Attiyah

PORTIMAO (Portugal): The quartet of BMWs taking part in the 28th Dakar Rally as part of the X-Raid Team completed the opening timed 83 kms stage between Lisbon and Portimao in 5th, 19th, 20th and 43rd positions today (Saturday).

The outright leaders of the event after the first stage are Spain's Carlos Sainz and German co-driver Andreas Schulz, with Portugal's Carlos Sousa holding second position in his Nissan Pick-Up.

Promising French youngster Guerlain Chicherit and co-driver Matthieu Baumel held a superb fifth position in their BMW X3 CC. "There is nothing to gain by pushing too hard at the start, but I was surprised to be so high up at the end of the stage," said the French BMW debutant, who finished 49th overall in the Dakar last year at the wheel of a powerful Bowler.

Qatar's Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and French co-driver Alain Guehennec are hotly-tipped to be the X-Raid team's leading challengers for Dakar Rally success this year. Al-Attiyah lay fourth overall last year, before crashing out in Morocco, but he had no intention of risking everything in today's potentially treacherous special stage. He did, however, sustain wheel damage in the stage and lost valuable time.

"We will wait and see what the pace is at the front," said Al-Attiyah. "The weather on Sunday's stage will be important. It would be nice to be among the top five when we arrive in Africa, but it is not that important at this early stage in the race. Today was a nice WRC-type stage. It was fast at times and there was some standing water, where you had to be careful not to slide wide into trouble. I had a problem and lost some time."

Former enduro rider Alfie Cox and co-driver Ralph Pitchford held 20th position after the opening timed special stage through the Alentejo wine region in their BMW X3CC.

"I have been driving in rallies in South Africa now for two years and actually won the South African Off-Road Championship this year," said Cox. "The opportunity arose to take part in the Dakar with BMW and here I am. I still have a motorcycle business in South Africa, but I see my future as a rally driver in a car. I suppose the realistic finishing position for me would be in the top 10. That is the goal."

Spaniard José-Luis Monterde and former WRC-winning co-driver Tiziano Siviero were classified unofficially in 23rd position in the sole factory BMW X5. The Spaniard finished ninth overall in last year's Dakar Rally, but is confident of improving on that this year.

"This car is getting better and is even better than the one we steered to ninth place last January," said Monterde. "These Portuguese stages are set to offer quite a challenge. There was no way that I was going to push today. It was a case of staying safe and not losing touch with the leaders."

Major support for the X-Raid team comes from Corona Extra and Magna Steyr.

On New Year's Day, the four X-Raid teams head out of Portimao and into a 65 kms road liaison section to the start of what promises to be a very tricky 115 kms timed special stage across the hilly ridges of the Algarve.

This special stage runs along rugged mountaineous and winding tracks and will be followed by a 387 kms road section to the bustling Spanish city of Malaga. The X-Raid teams will then embark upon a seven-hour overnight Mediterranean sea crossing to the Moroccan port of Nador.

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Series Dakar
Drivers Andreas Schulz , Carlos Sousa , Alfie Cox , Jose Luis Monterde , Alain Guehennec , Guerlain Chicherit , Matthieu Baumel , Ralph Pitchford