Stéphane Peterhansel is the first car driver to get to grips with the Saudi sand. The Frenchman is starting his 33rd Dakar behind the wheel of the new hybrid Audi. A host of rivals would gladly strip him of his crown, chief among them Nasser Al-Attiyah and his new Toyota GR DKR Hilux, racing in the brand-new T1+ category, which lets vehicles run wider tyres. The new regulations should benefit Al-Attiyah, who has been plagued by recurring punctures in previous editions.
Australian Daniel Sanders topped the leader board at the end of the qualifying stage and will therefore get first pick of starting position for stage 1B. It was the maiden win for the new GasGas team (affiliated with KTM) presented in the Rallye du Maroc. Sanders beat Pablo Quintanilla, Ross Branch and Kevin Benavides —four different constructors in the top 4!
The first 15 bikers at the finish of the special will get to choose their starting order for stage 1B in the reverse order of the standings. Sandbagging to finish just outside the top 15 is flirting with disaster, as a coefficient of 5 will be applied to the times at the end of the qualifying stage…
Yamaha is off to a good start today, courtesy of Ross Branch, currently leading the opening special. The Botswanan is ahead of Matthias Walkner, his teammate Adrien Van Beveren, Toby Price and yet another stablemate, Andrew Short. Yamaha and KTM are finding strength in numbers. Honda's first representative is Joan Barreda in sixth place, but watch out for Kevin Benavides, who has just sallied forth!