THIS year’s Dakar rally started in Argentina on January 5 and will continue on until January 18, traversing Argentina, Bolivia and Chile. It is the sixth time Argentina has hosted the rally.
The first days rallying took drivers from Rosario to San Luis along 180km of loose, stony ground. On Day Two the drivers headed out to the desert for a tough days driving. The first 250km of the day was some of the fastest dirt track driving of the whole rally, but later in the day once the drivers reach the dunes of El Nihuil, the final 100km of the race was slower and harder as the drivers ploughed through the sand.
Stage Three of the Dakar was between San Rafael and San Juan through the Andes Mountains, for a day of high speed twists and turns.
On Day One, the bikers set off at 4am led by French Cyril Despres, the five time champion and one of the favourites to win, along with Marc Coma from Spain, who has won the biker section of the rally three times. However, both were overtaken by Spaniard Joan Barreda, who went on to win the first stage.
British biker Sam Sunderland won the second day, with Chaleco Lopez and Joan Barreda coming in second and third. Barreda came back into his own for the third days riding, taking the lead again. Rules state that bikers must go to a separate bivouac at the end of Stage Three and have no support from their mechanics until the end of the fourth day.
The quad first stage winner was Chilean Ignacio Casale, with Argentinean champion Marcos Patronelli pleasing the home crowd coming in second. Patronelli managed to get ahead to win the second days racing, but mechanical problems on Day Three caused him to withdraw from the rally.
In cars, Carlos Sousa, the Portugese driver in a Chinese Haval, beat a string of former champions to win stage one. However during Stage Two of the race it was back to the favourites in the winning positions, with Stephan Peterhansel winning and Spanish driver Carlos Sainz runner up. Peterhansel struggled with six punctures on the third day of the rally, dropping him back to third position overall, behind the days winner Nani Roma and Carlos Sainz.
More predictable than the other categories was Ayrat Mardeev’s Stage One win in the truck race, although the other favourite and last year’s winner, Eduard Nikolaev came in fifth. Disaster struck Mardeev during Stage Two when he crashed and rolled his truck, ending this year’s Dakar rally for him. Russian Anton Shibalov won the days racing. Day Three saw Gerard DeRooy take overall lead.