DESPITE all they hype about the top drivers in the 2016 Dakar Rally a relative outsider took first place in the prologue for the event which decides Sunday’s start order.
There was also early-race drama 6.6km into the stage when car #360 veered off the route and crashed into four spectators, causing the race directors to call off the rest of the prologue as four helicopters, threet Dakar medical vehicles and eight local ambulances were called in.
Later reports said the number of injured could rise to 10.
The remainder of the qualifying prologue was called off and turned into a simple link section. It was unclear how the start for the rest of the field would be sorted.
TOP NAMES FINISH DOWNFIELD
Hollander Bernhard ten Brinke and his Toyota bakkie beat all the big names over the 11km sprint, taking six minutes and eight seconds to cover the distance.
That beat Carlos Sainz (Peugeot) and Spain’s Xavier Pons (Ford Ranger) – another surprise top finisher – with the Mini of Nasser al-Attiyah another five seconds back in fourth.
Nani Roma and Mikko Hirvonen, each in a Mini, were sixth and seventh respectively with South African favourite Giniel de Villiers only eighth in his Toyota Hilux, followed by the Peugeots of Stephan Peterhansel, nine-times World Rally champion Sebastien Loeb and Cyril Despres.
It was, according to the Dakar website, Ten Brinke’s fifth Dakar stage win.
Joan Barreda clocked the fastest time in the bike category though the time differences between competitors bear little relationship to how the real event will pan out.
Programme for the 2016 Dakar
31/12 and 01/01: Administrative and technical checks
02/01: Start podium in Buenos Aires / Prologue / Liaison to Bivouac “0” close to Rosario
03/01: Buenos Aires – Villa Carlos Paz
04/01: Villa Carlos Paz – Termas de Río Hondo
05/01: Termas de Río Hondo – Jujuy
06/01: Jujuy – Jujuy
07/01: Jujuy – Uyuni
08/01: Uyuni – Uyuni
09/01: Uyuni – Salta
10/01: Rest day in Salta
11/01: Salta – Belén
12/01: Belén – Belén
13/01: Belén – La Rioja
14/01: La Rioja – San Juan
15/01: San Juan – Villa Carlos Paz
16/01: Villa Carlos Paz – Rosario
Read more about the prologue and the event here.
Here’s how the official Dakar website reported on the day:
The prologue of the 38th edition of the Dakar was marred by an accident that saw competitor 360 veer off course at km 6.6 of the special and injure four spectators.
Race officials immediately deployed all resources available to the site of the accident and decided to neutralise the race. As a result, the timed section was cancelled for the trucks. As for the race, the car special delivered a pleasant surprise.
The first special of the 38th edition was expected to fall into the hands of one of the favourites but it was the Netherlands’ Bernhard ten Brinke who took the spoils. The Dutchman, at the wheel of a Toyota Hilux, played his hand right in the 11km section, whereas the favourites drove cautiously or suffered minor mishaps – Carlos Sainz, for example, lost his bonnet when crossing a watering hole.
At the finish, the Peugeot driver reckoned he had lost at least three seconds due to the incident. If true, this setback cost him victory.
Fellow Spaniard Xavier Pons (Ford) claimed the bottom step of a rather remarkable podium.
2015’s winner, Nasser al-Attiyah (Mini) was just off the podium, beating team mates Roma and Hirvonen by two seconds and De Villiers (Toyota), Peterhansel, Loeb and Despres (Peugeot) by four.
Sébastien Loeb, at the centre of attention, came in with the same time as his team mates and showed he has no plans to stay in their shadow.
Sunday’s stage from Rosario will end in Villa Carlos Paz, home to the Rally Argentina and the scene of more victories by Loeb than any other WRC leg, so few would be surprised if the Peugeot driver were to push a bit harder…
Joan Barreda (Honda) won the motorcycle stage after clocking the same time as Ruben Faria (Husqvarna) in the 11km timed section. The leaders of Honda and Husqvarna got off to a flying start, unlike Honda’s Paulo Gonçalves. The Portuguese rider was hit by a series of mechanical problems that forced him to stop several times during the special. He will start on Sunday in fiftieth place after finishing a full minute behind the winners.
He now has a strong incentive to attack even more than planned to catch up to his rivals.
Chile’s Ignacio Casale, winner of the quad category in 2014, won again today in 7min14. The Chilean rider put things right after having to withdraw on Stage 10 of last year’s race. Defending champion Rafał Sonik suffered a minor technical problem that left him 23sec behind the leader in the provisional classification.
Now that the warm-up is over, things will get serious with Sunday’s stage over 650km from Rosario to Villa Carlos Paz. The first section could change completely if overnight rain materialised. The cars and trucks (258km special) and the motorcycles and quads (227km) will race on different courses.