Bisha, Saudi Arabia, Jan 3 (AFP/APP): Defending champion Carlos Sainz won the first stage of the Dakar Rally on Sunday in Saudi Arabia with the kingdom hosting motorsport’s most punishing event for the second year since its move from South America.
The Spaniard, a three-time Dakar winner, covered the 277km special between Jeddah and Bisha in his Mini Buggy in 3hr 18min 56sec. Sainz, whose son Carlos drives for Ferrari in Formula One, finished 25sec ahead of French teammate Stephane Peterhansel after a gripping see-saw battle which record 13-time champion Peterhansel appeared to have won until Sainz stormed home to deny his celebrated rival.
“We spent lots of time in the midst of the vegetation, with bushes, tight corners,” said Peterhansel, who counts seven auto titles in his collection of Dakar triumphs. “We knew the bodywork would be in pretty poor shape by this evening, but when you want to be fast, you can’t drive too conservatively.
Czech Martin Prokop (Ford) completed the first day’s car podium. While Sainz leads Peterhansel by eight seconds in the fledgling standings, for another luminary of the rally world the 2021 Dakar had barely begun before it was all but over. Nine-time world rally champion Sebastien Loeb trails by more than 24 minutes after a day to forget.
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