Dakar: Stage one report

USA on top of the Dakar scene Just a few hours away from the New Year, the 463 vehicles of the Telefonica Dakar 2005 took off for the 27th edition of the rally. Under the bright sun of Catalunya, the competitors left the Placa de Espanya for ...

USA on top of the Dakar scene

Just a few hours away from the New Year, the 463 vehicles of the Telefonica Dakar 2005 took off for the 27th edition of the rally. Under the bright sun of Catalunya, the competitors left the Placa de Espanya for a 27km liaison before the super special on the beach of Castelldefels. On the 100% sand 6km circuit, Fretigne proved to be the fastest in the bike race while Robbie Gordon started his first rally in the best possible way with the best time on four wheels.

For this record-breaking year with 686 vehicles including the assistance cars and trucks, one could only expect a warm Barcelona cheer for the first stage of the Dakar. And that's exactly what happened with close to 200 000 people massed around the circuit. Not a bad way to start what promises to be a spectacular and... sandy Dakar! Sand indeed and very soft one for the 6 kilometres of the course designed by the organisation with the help of quite a few bulldozers to make the show even more spectacular.

In the bike race, the years go by and David Fretigne (YAM -- n12) is proving to be a European stage specialist. After winning the Narbonne and Castellon specials last year for his first ever rally, the Frenchman clinched yet another stage, his fourth success (added to his win in Ayoun El Atrous). "It was a clean and good special. My goal was not to fall. The sand was really soft, but I didn't make any mistakes", admitted the 34 year-old biker. The only official Yamaha member made the best of his lighter 450cc machine, without however using his two-wheel drive system. "Normally I shouldn't be using the system before the long and sandy Mauritanian stages." Second of the special behind Fretigne, exactly like in Narbonne and Castellon 11 months ago, Cyril Despres (KTM -- n2) on his bigger official KTM-Gauloises finished 8sec adrift. "It was a good way to get back into gear. I was really happy to hop back on my bike after a month without riding".

The good surprise of the day on two wheels was definitely Erik Verhoef's (KTM -- n29) excellent third spot. The Dutchman who had been forced to quit after last edition's stage 9 going to Nema, finished just 13sec behind the day's winner. Meanwhile, things went totally wrong for two official KTM riders. Eager to take off, Alfie Cox (KTM -- n3) hit the sand after just a few metres of the special after meeting a rock. With an injured shoulder, the South African eventually finished in 49th spot, well over a minute adrift. A few minutes before that, KTM Repsol member, Giovanni Sala (KTM - n14) suffered clutch worries that forced him to make in to the finish line on his two feet pushing his bike. The Italian lost over 8min on the day. While quite a few privateers struggled in the soft sand of the Catalan beach, US youngster Kellon Walsh (KTM -- n21) flew to a very promising fifth spot. At only 21 years of age, the Red Bull USA KTM team rider who was selected during a six-day selection camp, is proving that the US team has so far made an excellent choice.

A good day for the USA in the bike race... An excellent day on four wheels! Indeed Robbie Gordon (VW -- n317) clocked the best time in the car race for his first ever kilometres on a Dakar. The American who has already clinched successes in NASCAR and CART events as well as the Baja 1000, surprised all the favourites on the tricky circuit to give Volkswagen its second victory in a Dakar special (after Kleinschmidt last year) beating Masuoka (MIT -- n309) by 2sec and De Villiers (NIS -- n314) by 3. "It wasn't easy because the sand was really soft after the jumps. I was really excited at the start especially with such a crowd. I feel lucky to be here. "

The Dakar rally had already had American stage victories on two wheels with Chuck Stearns and Danny Laporte, but this 31st of December 2004 will be remembered as the first time a US competitor wins in a car. A fine day it was indeed for Gordon and the German brand with two of their diesel vehicles in the top five (Saby finishing fourth) while Scotsman Colin McRae (NIS -- n308) grabbed 8th spot and title holder Stephane Peterhansel (MIT -- n306) had to settle with 9th position. As expected, the hero of the day in the hearts of the Catalan fans was last edition's bike winner Nani Roma (MIT -- n320). But on four wheels and in his new Pajero Evo 2, things didn't completely go Nani's way. The Spaniard who is "here to learn" took it easy, exactly like he was told by his Mitsubishi team and eventually clinched 23rd spot, over 30sec adrift.

In the biggest of categories, Dutchman Hans Bekx (DAF -- n524) earned himself his first ever Dakar success after numerous participation in the World's most popular rally-raid event. The 48 year old driver took his DAF truck to the finish line in a time of 5'20"09, beating Firdaus Kabirov (KAM -- n520) by 14sec while Jan De Rooy (DAF -- n521) was third. Title holder Vladimir Tchaguine (KAM -- n515) had to settle with 7th spot at 35sec.

-www.dakar.com-

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Series Dakar
Drivers Colin McRae , Stéphane Peterhansel , Cyril Despres , Alfie Cox , Giovanni Sala , Nani Roma , David Fretigne , Firdaus Kabirov , Hans Bekx