Al Wajh (Saudi Arabia), Jan 5: The opening stage of Dakar 2020 brought mixed results for Hero MotoSports Team Rally on Sunday, with the experienced Paulo Goncalves finishing in 12th place.
The team's riders rode with caution to avoid errors in the first stage of what is going to be a long rally. Sebastian Buhler was in 31st and CS Santosh in 39th place.
Goncalves rode in his trademark style, cautious to begin with and then raking up some good pace in the second half. Sebastian Buhler had to make a small additional run to catch a waypoint while Santosh had his first taste of the Saudi sands with a couple of minor crashes but overall, did a good stage to climb up some ranks from his starting position.
However, not all went as per the plan for the team as Joaquim Rodrigues suffered an unfortunate mechanical problem in his bike that forced him to forfeit the stage. He will try for a restart on Monday.
As per the rule, he will now be considered out of contention for an overall result, but remains in the competition for the stage results. The stage took the rally from Jeddah to Al Wajh for a total run of 752 kms which included the special stage of 319 kms and provided a glimpse of everything that makes up this rally in quick succession – navigation, fast and winding off-piste, dunes, trials and stones – a stage truly worthy of being an opening stage of the Dakar 2020.
Stage 2 will begin from Al Wajh and move to Neom, continuing along the Red Sea, for a special section of 367 kms to be done on the clock.
Goncalves said, "It was a really interesting start of the Dakar 2020. A big stage of 320 kms and a mix of everything from stony tracks to trails to sand dunes. "The navigation also was very complicated so I decided to ride with caution in the beginning to avoid navigation mistakes and crashes. I am happy with my start here as my feeling is good."
Regaining champion Toby Price of Redhill KTM racing won the first stage with timing of 03h 19m 33s. Ricky Brabec of Monster Energy Honda Team (+02m 05s) was second while Matthias Walkner of RedBull KTM Racing (+02m 40s) was third.
Buhler said, "It was a good stage for me. I felt comfortable with the new bike and felt good about my riding. It was a fast stage with many stony sections but it's only the first day of a really long rally so I think I will continue to go like this."