Qatari Nasser al-Attiyah won the first special of the Dakar Rally on Sunday to extend his race lead after victory in the prologue.
The 51-year-old, looking to win the race for the fourth time, finished the stage 12 minutes and seven seconds quicker than nine-time world rally champion Sebastien Loeb in second place.
“It feels steady. We’ll do our best, but today was a good stage for us. This is no time to race conservatively,” said Toyota’s al-Attiyah, a former Olympic shooting medallist.
The 333-kilometre loop around northern Saudi Arabia saw several competitors suffer navigational difficulties, resulting in large time gaps.
Record 14-time Dakar winner Stephane Peterhansel, nicknamed “Monsieur Dakar”, lost a lot of time after losing a wheel of his Audi.
The Frenchman could now decide to withdraw from the race after having to wait for six hours for assistance.
Loeb is now 12mins and 44secs behind Al-Attiyah in the early standings after battling back from a difficult start which saw his car suffer two punctures.
“It really wasn’t simple, we messed up and started with two punctures before the neutralisation,” he said. “There was no room for error in the second part.”
“The first part of the day dented our confidence, but everything turned out fine,” he added.
Australian Daniel Sanders extended his early advantage in the bikes category, beating Chilean Pablo Quintanilla by 3mins and 7secs on Sunday.
“In the end, a lot of guys got lost and, luckily, we got onto the right track,” said Sanders.
“It was a good, strong finish. I just didn’t push too much at the start, just gave it a nice rhythm, and at the end I tried to open as much as I could.”