Defending event winner Toby Price led the way in motorcycle competition, while Lithuanian Rally Champion Vaidotas Zala surprised the auto field with a stage victory, as the Dakar Rally kicked off its inaugural edition in Saudi Arabia on Sunday. Zala’s time of 3:19:04 on the opening stage from Jeddah to Al Wajh was the best of all competitors, while Price’s 3:21:33 on two wheels wasn’t far off.
However, while Zala’s margin of victory over Dakar legend Stephane Peterhansel was just over two minutes, Price leads by just the razor-thin margin of five seconds. The Red Bull KTM rider was closely followed on the time sheets by defending Mint 400 winner and American rider Ricky Brabec of Monster Energy Honda, who looks to make up for a stunning mechanical failure while leading last year’s Dakar. KTM and Honda riders alternated through the first five spots, with Pablo Quintanilla in sixth the top Husqvarna rider and Adrien Van Beveren the top Yamaha rider in 10th.
Brabec isn’t the only American to run towards the front, though. Casey Currie finished fourth in last year’s Dakar, and as a sophomore, picked up where he left off by finishing second in the SSV class on Stage 1, just under two minutes behind Poland’s Aron Domzala. Dakar rookies AJ Jones and Mitch Guthrie Jr. finished sixth and 10th in the opener, respectively, while Guthrie’s Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team teammate Blade Hildebrand came home 15th in the start of his second Dakar.
Behind Zala and Peterhansel in the cars are the past two class winners, 2018 champion Carlos Sainz in third and defending winner Nasser Al-Attiyah in fourth, with Bernhard Ten Brinke completing the top five. Past Formula 1 world champion Fernando Alonso completed his first Dakar stage in a respectable 11th, while Los Angeles Dodgers owner Bobby Patton and navigator Robbie Pierce came home 63rd in the first stage of their Dakar debuts.
On quads, 2018 winner Ignacio Casale returned to the class after failing to finish in a UTV last year, and holds a 5:36 lead over Rafal Sonik. In trucks, a Kamaz topped the charts on day one, but it wasn’t the one you think: Anton Shibalov scored the first stage victory, with teammate Eduard Nikolaev kicking off his quest of a sixth Dakar victory (fifth as a driver) and fourth win in a row with a 10th place stage finish.
Monday’s Stage 2 will take racers from Al Wajh to Neom with 367 kilometers of special stages, mostly on tracks. American fans looking to watch the first two stages of the event can tune in to NBCSN on Monday at 5PM ET for back-to-back highlight shows covering each stage.