X-RAID'S NASSER AL-ATTIYAH TAKES EARLY LEAD IN 2009 DAKAR RALLY * Arab stage win marks first overall Dakar lead for X-raid team * Early pace-setter Chicherit crashes in the dust * X-raid's Terranova, Van Merksteijn and Novitskiy in early ...
X-RAID'S NASSER AL-ATTIYAH TAKES EARLY LEAD IN 2009 DAKAR RALLY
* Arab stage win marks first overall Dakar lead for X-raid team
* Early pace-setter Chicherit crashes in the dust
* X-raid's Terranova, Van Merksteijn and Novitskiy in early form
SANTA ROSA DE LA PAMPA (Argentina): X-raid's Sails Capital Racing Team laid notice of its intention to win the 2009 Dakar Rally, when Qatar's Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and Swedish co-driver Tina Thorner set the overall fastest time through the opening 371km special stages between Buenos Aires and Santa Rosa de la Pampa on Saturday.
The Qatari was the quickest driver on the course to the opening passage control and then regained a lead that his team mate Guerlain Chicherit had held through the subsequent two passage controls, when the Frenchman lost his path in the dust at a junction, struck a hole and damaged the suspension on his BMW X3 CC.
Al-Attiyah, from Doha, will now take a useful 2m 17s advantage over Spaniard Carlos Sainz into the second leg on Sunday. The success marked the first time that an Arab driver has led the Dakar Rally in its 31-year history and the first time that the Trebur-based X-raid team, under the management of Sven Quandt, has held the overall lead.
"It was a great start, but there was a lot of dust," said Al-Attiyah modestly. "For the last 150km we drove quite slowly, because there were so many bikes to the left and to the right and we did not want to have an accident. The car was perfect today and I am feeling very confident for the next few stages." "It was a great day for us to win the stage and to lead the Dakar Rally for the first time," said team director Sven Quandt. "It is only day one, with a long way to go. We know that. Bbut Chich's (Chicherit) accident was unnecessary and a little frustrating.
Argentinean driver Orlando Terranova started brightly and held fourth in the stage, before slipping to seventh at the finish, while both Dutchman Peter van Merksteijn and Leonid Novitskiy began on a good pace and were classified in 10th and 12th positions after day one. Rene Kuipers completed his first Dakar stage in a car in 21st place in the sixth BMW X3 CC.
"Peter (Van Merksteijn) and Rene (Kuipers) are driving very well for their first Dakar," added Quandt. "To be in 10th position with this field of drivers is an excellent start for Peter. Orly and Leonid are also on a good pace."
"Seventh is a good position, but I had been fourth at one point, before I discussed the stage with Alain (Guehennec) and we decided to slow our pace," said Terranova. "We caught a Nissan after 100km and we tried to overtake, but it was impossible. Then we started to catch the bikes and it was not a good idea to take risks passing them. The race is very long but we have a good position for the second stage."
Two hundred and seventeen bikes, 25 quads, 177 cars, 81 trucks eventually headed into the first of the timed specials between Buenos Aires and Santa Rosa de la Pampa, after an estimated 500,000 people had lined the streets of Buenos Aires and attended the official ceremonial start on Friday evening.
Al-Attiyah posted his intention of taking an outright victory from the start and was the fastest driver through the opening PC of the 2009 Dakar, the Qatari edging 11 seconds in front of American Mark Miller, with X-raid team mate Guerlain Chicherit holding third position.
But Chicherit hit the front at the second passage control at the 248km point, with Germany's Dieter Depping and Al-Attiyah running second and third fastest on the road. The Frenchman maintained a 14-second lead over Depping through the third control. Al-Attiyah held third position and Argentinean team mate Orlando Terranova was running well up the field and hovering in fourth.
Chicherit's spirited early run was curtailed after the final passage control, when he missed a right turn in the dust and clouted the suspension in a deep hole.
Kuipers, on the other hand, was upbeat after the first day: "My deal to take part in the Dakar with Peter (van Merksteijn) was only finalised about three weeks before the rally," admitted Kuipers. "But it was a challenge I could not resist. I took part on a bike two years ago, but had a big crash after half-way and know how tough the event can be. But I am working well with Filipe (Palmeiro) in the car. It is just difficult to judge the pace to be safe and also to be competitive."
Tomorrow (Sunday) marks the longest day of the entire event -- a punishing 837km section between Santa Rosa de la Pampa and the tourist centre of Puerto Madryn, the head town of the Viedma department in the Patagonian province of Chubut.
The day's competitive action begins close to the overnight bivouac and extends for 237km, offering tricky navigation and a mixture of fast gravel and sandy sections, with two passage controls.
The bulk of the day is made up of a tiring 600km liaison section across the Rio Negro, passing the Rio Colorado and the town of General Conesa to arrive at Puerto Madryn near the Atlantic coast, the Gulf of San Matias and the entrance to the Valdes Peninsula.