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Al Attiyah fourth, Zala surprise leader as Dakar Rally gets off to a flying start

Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah

Bengaluru, January 6: Defending champion Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah had to settle for fourth place owing to late mechanical problems with his Toyota after the first stage of Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia which saw a surprise winner in Lithuania's Vaidotas Zala while two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso played it safe.

Three-time champion Al Attiyah overcame three punctures in the closing kilometres to limit the damage to just over five minutes.

Zala, who led home a star-studded field of offroad competitors, did a 1-2-3 for Mini, 2mins 14sec clear of team-mates Stephane Peterhansel, the 13-time Dakar champion, and Carlos Sainz.

After an overnight stay in the Al Wajh bivouac, the Dakar moves off to Neom in northwestern Saudi Arabia. The timed special stage of 367kms will offer the riders spectacular views of the Red Sea as well as plenty of navigational challenges along the way.

Good feeling

Good feeling

"It's a good feeling to be at the end of the first ever Dakar stage in the Middle East, but it was a hard day. We had three punctures to stop and fix.

We had to stop every two or three kilometres to fix a rear wheel, very strange. We opened the road today and that wasn't easy, some tricky sections," said Al Attiyah, who has Frenchman Matthieu Baumel as his navigator.

Sounded upbeat

Sounded upbeat

Peterhansel, who is having his wife Andrea as co-driver on a new MINI John Cooper Works Buggy sounded upbeat after day one.

"We got through today's stage with no big mistakes or punctures. We had dunes, rocky sections and fast valleys today, a good mix of terrain," the Frenchman said.

Alonso plays it safe

Alonso plays it safe

Dakar debutant Alonso, trying to make history as the first F1 champion to win the event, avoided the early pitfalls and completed the drive from Jeddah to Al Wajh in his Toyota in 11th place.

"Good first day. Fun and challenging stage. Tomorrow more to come," tweeted the Spaniard, who has compatriot Marc Coma as his navigator.

Wake up call

Wake up call

The 2020 Dakar Rally has burst into life with an opening stage that gave competitors a stern wake up call - 319km against the clock. The first-ever Dakar stage to be held in Saudi Arabia represented a new start for all 342 vehicles entered into the rally.

As well as a few familiar faces taking early leads, we also have a crop of intriguing newcomers to keep an eye on. It was a pre-sunrise start for the Dakar convoy after the start podium in the city of Jeddah and more excitement is in store on day 2.

(With Red Bull Media inputs)

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Story first published: Monday, January 6, 2020, 10:41 [IST]
Other articles published on Jan 6, 2020
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