The 2018 Dakar Rally is underway after 139 bikes, 92 cars, 49 quads and 44 trucks revved their engines on the start line in Lima.
Stage one out of 14 consisted of a 150-mile liaison from the Peruvian capital up the Pacific Coast to Pisco, where a 19-mile special stage took place.
It was a short but tactical start to the 40th edition of the legendary rally raid race, with drivers potentially not wanting to open the road on Sunday and leave a trail for their rivals to follow.
Sunday sees a 166-mile special stage looping around Pisco, with 90 percent of the route off-piste.
As he did last year, two-time winner Nasser Al-Attiyah put his foot to the floor right from the get-go to win the opening stage of the race in his Toyota Hilux.
The Qatari opened up leads of more than two minutes over Stéphane Peterhansel and Carlos Sainz. Al-Attiyah will cede to Matthieu Baumel for the next stage.
“I don’t want a strategy because I trust my co-driver Matthieu,” he said. “Tomorrow, if we open the road, I know it will be very difficult, but I’m just really happy for today, tomorrow’s another day. We try to do our best.”
Sebastien Loeb finished five minutes behind as he struggled with a brake failure on his Peugeot 3008DKR Maxi just two miles into the special stage.
“Our brakes bailed out on us after 3 kilometers,” Loeb said. “The special was just 30 kilometers long, thankfully. The handbrake wasn’t working and we had no way of slowing down. We went slowly, doing our best not to get stuck or bogged down. There were dunes with steep descents, so I had to stop accelerating 200 metres before that to avoid any risks.
“It was quite tricky, driving without brakes is exasperating. It was a difficult start, oh well!”
British history-maker Sam Sunderland has been sleeping in an oxygen tent to prepare for the race this year, and the Red Bull KTM Factory Team rider got his title defence off to a blistering start by posting the fastest time and winning the stage in front of Adrien van Beveren and Pablo Quintanilla. Teammate and 2016 winner Toby Price was more than three minutes back in 14th, with Laia Sanz coming home 12th.
Chilean Ignacio Casale, the 2014 winner and 2017 runner-up, got his race up and running with a confident victory by crossing the line one minute ahead of defending champion Sergey Karyakin. Frenchman Sébastien Souday took third.
Very little separated the top three trucks on stage one but it was Czech Aleš Loprais of the Tatra team who claimed the win, overcoming Martin van den Brink and 2017 champion Eduard Nikolaev in his Kamaz Master.