Dakar: South African drivers stage one report

South Africans perform well in stage 1 of Dakar. Tension, exhilaration and major festivity saw to an electrifying atmosphere at the start of the 2003 Telefonica Dakar Cross Country in Parc Chanot, Marseille in France today, Wednesday, 1 January...

South Africans perform well in stage 1 of Dakar.

Tension, exhilaration and major festivity saw to an electrifying atmosphere at the start of the 2003 Telefonica Dakar Cross Country in Parc Chanot, Marseille in France today, Wednesday, 1 January 2003. Thousands of French spectators lined the entire stage in the park the historic start of the 25th Dakar race.

At 17.10 a 1km prologue started with the lowest seeded quads and motorcycles starting first, and Fabrizio Meoni and South Africa's Alfie Cox the last men off the line before the cars and trucks started the stage.

The weather, although freezing cold, kept up well and all the competitors raced the stage under dry conditions. The stage was run similar to some rally show stages where two competitors started next to one another, racing along a man-made off road track, and challenging each other to the line at the stage finish. The result of today's stage will have very little significants on the final times at the finish in Egypt after completing 8550km, but it determines the starting order in Narbonne tomorrow.

If the first kilometer is anything to go by, then the competitors in the 2003 Telefonica Dakar race mean serious business and the South African pilots are up with the best, looking at their results. In the car category, the South African built Nissan Hardbody of Japanese driver Kenjiro Shinozuka won the prologue ahead of three Pajeros. Giniel de Villiers finished 10 seconds slower than his leading teammate and clinched 11th place. Ari Vatanen, the four times Dakar winner, also in a Hardbody, finished on the same time as De Villiers, placing him in 10th position.

In the motorcycle category Alfie Cox, on 660 Gauloises Natro Freight Nashua KTM, who finished in second place last year, was a marginal 5 seconds slower than the stage winner, his teammate Cyril Despres, who performed well in front his fellow countryman.

Vicus van Deventer on a DS 650 Baja Bombardier quad, two-times winner of the experimental class in the Dakar race, finished in second place a mere 3 seconds slower than the Spaniard Jose Alvarez on a similar Bombardier.

After completion of the racing section, competitors had to contest a 264km liaison stage to the overnight stop at the historic city of Narbonne, near the Spanish border.

Tomorrow (Thursday, 2 January 2003) sees the entire caravan on a 540km liaison stage from Narbonne to Castellón in Spain, where a short special stage takes place on Friday before the fraternity leaves for Africa.

All be it a 1km stage, Nissan boasts their first stage win in the 2003 Dakar, something they are very proud of.

After a short night in Narbonne the second stage starts at 09:00 over a distance of 540km including a 43km special stage in France. The overnight stop is in Castellón, Spain.

-coen van zyl

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Series Dakar
Drivers Ari Vatanen , Kenjiro Shinozuka , Vicus van Deventer , Fabrizio Meoni , Cyril Despres , Alfie Cox