Dakar: Gauloises Racing stage 1 report

All systems go! Despite heavy snow, 30,000 spectators turned out to watch a 'healthy' entry of 195 motorcycles, 142 cars and 63 trucks tackle the 1,5 km prologue in Clermont-Ferrand. Used to decide the start order for tomorrow's first special...

All systems go!

Despite heavy snow, 30,000 spectators turned out to watch a 'healthy' entry of 195 motorcycles, 142 cars and 63 trucks tackle the 1,5 km prologue in Clermont-Ferrand.

Used to decide the start order for tomorrow's first special in Narbonne, it was above all a chance for rallye-raid fans to see their heroes 'live'.

In the bike class it was the 450 KTM mounted Italian Graziani who went round the fastest, seven seconds ahead of the newly crowned Rallye-Raid World Champion Cyril Despres (Gauloises KTM) -- himself just ahead of his team mate and last year's winner Richard Sainct (Gauloises KTM). The rest of the Gauloises riders were a little more cautious with Alfie Cox 21st and Fabrizio Meoni, aboard the big KTM 950 twin, 22nd.

In the cars Nissan took the two top spots with Shinozuka beating De Villiers by less than a second. Ex-rally star Miki Biasion was third with another Mitsubishi fourth (Masuoka). With the slippery conditions little suited to his 2-wheel drive buggy, Jean Louis Schlesser (Gauloises Ford Buggy) could only manage 21st place, with team mate Jose Maria Servia just behind in 24th. T1 'king' Jean Pierre Strugo (Gauloises Mercedes) was 36th seven places in front of another Gauloises competitor, Thierry De Lavergne.

Driver Quotes

Cyril Despres 2nd (at 07'84)
"What are we doing here in all this snow! I saw that a few spectators had been transformed into snowmen! I am sorry for them that conditions are so bad but glad that we can now put our bikes in the trucks and go to Narbonne in the warm."

Richard Sainct 3rd (at 09'31)
"It was very slippery out there but I think Cyril and I put on a good show for the spectators. Before we get to Narbonne we'll unload the bikes and ride them into town -- it is the least we can do for all the people who will turn out to see us."

Alfie Cox 21st (at 19'40)
"When I left home it was 35 degrees and I'm a sunshine boy. I can't wait to get back to Africa!"

Fabrizio Meoni 22nd (at 19'62)
"That was hard work with my heavy bike! The important thing for me was not to crash!"

Jean Louis Schlesser 21st (at 16'91)
"That wasn't a special for us in our 2-wheel drive buggy -- much too slippery. Still the car is running perfectly and the driver is not feeling too bad either!"

Josep Maria Servia 24th (at 19'65)
"I'm glad that is over -- now all we've got is motorway to Narbonne -- I hope there isn't too much snow -- fortunately we have a heater in the car!"

Jean-Pierre Strugo 36th (at 29'15)
"The big jumps out there were more suited to the 'protos' than our Mercedes but everything went OK. I hear that it is also snowing in Africa -- but fortunately they have put sand down!"

Snow storms on the liaison from Clermont to Narbonne has prompted to organisers to extensively modify the route and increase the distance from 396.5 km to 540. Tomorrow the day will start with a 25 km special just outside Narbonne followed by a 563 km liaison to Castellon.

-gauloises-

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About this article
Series Dakar
Drivers Jean-Louis Schlesser , Miki Biasion , José Maria Servia , Fabrizio Meoni , Cyril Despres , Alfie Cox , Richard Sainct , Jean-Pierre Strugo