Sam Sunderland claims KTM's first win of the year and Nasser Al-Attiyah beat Orlando Terranova by 22 seconds...
Speedster Sam Sunderland delivered on his promise at the end of an opening special just 175 km long, beating Paulo Gonçalves (Honda) by a slim margin to claim KTM's first win of the year. Nasser Al-Attiyah romped around on a fast and somewhat tricky course to beat homeboy Orlando Terranova by 22 seconds in the car category. Nani Roma, on the other hand, saw his title defence prospects evaporate.
Despite a streak of bad luck during his first two Dakar starts with Honda, Sam Sunderland showed glimpses of his speed when he took the second stage of the 2014 edition. He made good on this promise during today's opening stage from Buenos Aires to Villa Carlos Paz, in which he took his second stage win in the biggest rally on Earth.
Reunited with his KTM after its transatlantic crossing, the Englishman masterfully used his motorcycle's qualities to steal the thunder from teammate Marc Coma, who finished the stage over a minute back. He now has good reason to reassess his goals, although the 25-year-old knows that the race is long and the competition will be fierce. Paulo Gonçalves, for instance, wants to make amends in South America. The Portuguese 2013 rally world champion broke down in tears when his Honda burst into flames during the fifth stage of the 2014 Dakar.
With a narrow five-second deficit to Sunderland after the inaugural stage, Gonçalves is determined to do well, just like Coma, who aims to crush pretenders to his throne. The Spaniard, third in today's stage, will not have to deal with Cyril Despres, but he will have to keep a watchful eye on fourth-placed Joan Barreda. Alain Duclos and his Sherco finished in fifth place, two minutes behind the winner but ahead of Jeremías Israel and fellow countryman David Casteu. There was also a stunning rookie performance by motocross rider Matthias Walkner, who clinched a solid eighth place in today's warm-up stage, while Olivier Pain and Jordi Viladoms were extra cautious and conceded over 3′30″.
Ignacio Casale was unfazed by having to open the road on a highly rolling first stage, and he immediately proved he still has what it takes, one year after his maiden Dakar victory. The Chilean already has a one-minute margin over last year's runner-up, Rafał Sonik, with Sergio Lafuente rounding off the provisional podium, with no surprises after 175 km of racing. Mauro Almeida sits in fourth place in his second Dakar start, about twenty seconds ahead of Qatar's Mohammed Abu-Issa, fourth in his Dakar debut and ready to set his sights on loftier goals in 2015.
The Dakar cannot be won in the first stage, but it sure can be lost. A tough lesson for defending champion Nani Roma, who had to stop after tackling a bump a few kilometres into today's special. The Spaniard stopped for several hours, and it would take a miracle for him to win in Buenos Aires. The other side of the coin is his teammate Nasser Al-Attiyah, who made the most out of his supercharged Mini and is on the hunt for a second overall victory to go with the one he earned for Volkswagen in 2011. Today, the Qatari backed up his ambitions, claiming his first win this year by 22 seconds over Argentina's Orlando Terranova, also part of the X-Raid Armada.
Robby Gordon, still looking for his maiden overall win after taking several stages, sits in third place, one minute behind the winner, while Giniel de Villiers (Toyota) also has good reason to be hopeful. The eagerly awaited Peugeots had a so-so start to the rally, with Carlos Sainz in eighth place, two minutes behind Al-Attiyah and two places ahead of Stéphane Peterhansel, who probably was expecting something more from his debut with the brand of the lion. Cyril Despres, on the other hand, has already lost 10 minutes to the leader.
The Yamaz entries surprisingly struggled today with Iveco holding onto the top spot with pilots Stacey, Brunynkens, and Der Kinderen.