The first stage of Dakar 2021 went to 2020 overall winners Carlos Sainz and Lucas Cruz in the #300 Mini John Cooper Works Buggy. Stephane Peterhansel and Edouard Boulanger in the second Mini Buggy finished second.
The 2021 Dakar, like last year’s event, is being run in Saudi Arabia. The rally began with a short prologue on Saturday, January 2, and continued with the first stage, run from Jeddah to Bisha over a distance of 277 kilometers. It will conclude in Jeddah on January 15 after traversing the country over the course of twelve stages.
Sven Quandt’s X-raid team is once again fielding the Minis in the event, running the two Buggies along with six Mini JCW Rallies.
Early in Stage One, Vaidotas Zala led in a Mini JCW Rally that he shared with co-driver Paulo Fiuza. Zala dropped back over the course of the stage, leaving Sainz and Peterhansel to dice for the overall lead. In the end Sainz won with a 25-second edge over Peterhansel. Despite finishing 28th in the prologue, Sainz’s performance on the stage gave him the overall lead in the car category going into Monday’s 457-kilometer stage from Bisha to Wadi Ad-Dawasir.
The best finishing JCW Rally on the stage was # 309 piloted by Orlando Terranova and Bernardo Graue. Their car had been the best finishing Mini in the Saturday prologue, coming in fifth, but the duo was set back by three punctures on Stage One.
Competitors will face the first dunes of the rally on Stage Two on Monday. The 457-kilometer stage will run from Bisha to Wadi Ad-Dawasir.
The 2021 rally is being run despite pandemic restrictions that shut down entry to the country by land, air, or sea in mid-December. The organizing group, ASO, working closely with the Saudi government, chartered eighteen planes to transport competitors to the country. Autosport has filed a detailed report on the runup to the rally here.
Information on competitors and the route, along with videos and news of the rally’s progress, is posted on the Dakar website. Half-hour summaries are broadcast daily on the NBC Sports Network.—Brian Morgan
[Photos courtesy X-raid.]