Racing is officially underway at the 2022 edition of the Dakar Rally in the sands of Saudi Arabia. A total of 409 vehicles are entered, including 144 bikes, 87 T1 cars, 48 T3 side-by-sides and 56 trucks.
After departing Jeddah along the Red Sea, the starting shot for the qualifying stage was fired at the entrance to the Medina region. The opening 19 km/12-mile sprint was a sign of things to come: sandy tracks and dunes in an all-sand timed sector in which the entrants crowned and gobbled up dunes. The caravan then headed northeast for a 614 km/382-mile liaison to Ha’il, where the grand start podium awaited the participants for tomorrow’s stage 1B on a loop course.
Australia’s Daniel Sanders showed his talent on sand with his KTM to defeat Honda rider Pablo Quintanilla for the first motorcycle win, while Nasser Al-Attiyah was also in his element on sandy terrain among the cars. The Qatari’s 42nd career stage win was also his sixth in a Dakar opener. The Toyota driver gained 12m44s on Sebastien Loeb in his BRX Hunter, while Martin Prokopp was another 10s back in his Orlen.
“It was incredible because it was a really tricky stage. I expected it to be more straightforward,” related Al-Attiyah. “Mathieu (Baumel, co-driver) did an outstanding job, especially in the second part of the stage. There was a time when we saw a track that went a bit too far to the right, and he said, ‘No, turn left,’ and then, when we got to the next waypoint, we saw we were on the right track. Then, we drove at the front with Seb and pushed hard.
“I’m very happy. The Toyota works like a charm and I’m having a blast in this T1+. It feels steady. We’ll do our best, but today was a good stage for us. This is no time to race conservatively.”
The lightweight prototype race saw an unexpected OT3-Red Bull exhibition, led by America’s Seth Quintero (pictured above).
“Stage 1 went well. The way I see it, you should take it easy in the tricky parts and push hard in the fast sectors, and that’s exactly what I did,” related Quintero. “When I got to the refueling, I had an amazing 8- or 9-minute margin. Then, we must have lost 15 minutes, like many others, because of a dodgy navigation note, but we’re still in the lead in the T3 class and probably in the top 12 overall. I’ve been a fast learner since I was a kid and I’m always eager to learn, and that’s what I’m doing in the Dakar!”
Poland’s Aron Domzala led the way in SSV on his Can-Am, while Kamaz re-established its dominance of the truck class, led by Dimitri Sotnikof.
It was a grim New Year’s Eve for OT3-Red Bull, after Mitch Guthrie and Guillaume De Mevius’s co-driver, Tom Colsoul, both tested positive for COVID-19, but the team bounced back to place its three cars in the top 4 of the T3 race. 19-year-old prodigy Quintero led the charge with his seventh stage win in his second Dakar start. Two last-minute substitutes were called up to fill the empty seats. Norwegian Andreas Mikkelsen went from enjoying a ski retreat to making his rally raid debut to posting the second fastest time in the special. Meanwhile, De Mevius was already on his way to the special when he met his new navigator: Kellon Walch, Robby Gordon’s long-time co-driver, who partnered up with Austin Jones last year, had landed at 5:30 that morning after flying in from Los Angeles via Paris. The pair are now sitting in fourth place overall.
A couple of favorites among the bikes had quiet starts. America’s Ricky Brabec was down in 35th while Australia’s Toby Price was 22nd and Chilean “Nacho” Cornejo 26th on the day — all far from the top 15, which gives competitors the opportunity to pick their starting order in the following stage.
2022 Dakar Rally Standings after Stage 1
CAR TOP 51. N. AL-ATTIYAH (QAT) TOYOTA 03:30:53 2. S. LOEB (FRA) BRX +12:44 3. M. PROKOP (CZE) FORD +22:39 4. L. ALVAREZ (ARG) TOYOTA +27:42 5. V. VASILYEV (RUS) MINI +28:58
BIKE TOP 51. D. SANDERS (AUS) GAS GAS 04:38:40 2. P. QUINTANILLA (CHL) HONDA +03:07 3. M. WALKNER (AUT) KTM +11:06 4. A. VAN BEVEREN (FRA) YAMAHA +12:46 5. M. KLEIN KTM +14:34
TRUCK TOP 51. D. SOTNIKOV (RUS) KAMAZ 04:06:22 2. E. NIKOLAEV (RUS) KAMAZ +00:31 3. A. LOPRAIS (CZE) PRAGA +09:58 4. A. SHIBALOV (RUS) KAMAZ +18:56 5. A. KARGINOV (RUS) KAMAZ +19:12 LIGHTWEIGHT PROTOTYPE (T3) TOP 5 1. S. QUINTERO (USA) OT3 04:21:35 2. F. LOPEZ CONTARDO (CHL) CAN-AM +01:58 3. S. ERIKSSON (SWE) CAN-AM +06:52 4. P. LEBEDEV (RUS) CAN-AM +13:41 5. C. GUTIERREZ (ESP) OT3 +29:54