In a surprising upset, Vaidotas Zala became the first overall leader of the 2020 Dakar Rally, finishing the opening stage first in what was a top-three sweep for Mini. It was his first career stage win.
Legendary Dakar driver and teammate Stephane Peterhansel came in second after losing time looking for a hidden waypoint.
“The directions were hard to understand in English,” said Peterhansel, “In 21 editions of the Dakar, I’ve never had a co-driver talk to me in English, so I need to get used to it. There were dunes, sandy plateaus and rocky sectors where we had to walk on eggshells.”
Last year’s winner Nasser Al-Attiyah led most of the stage but ended in fourth after his Toyota had mechanical problems. Hot Take: Mini beats Toyota in reliability.
Update 3:10 EST: It sounds like Nasser Al-Attiyah suffered multiple punctures and not mechanical problems. There goes my hot take.
Carlos Sainz, father of McLaren F1 driver Carlos Sainz Jr. came in third. F1 and Le Mans champion Fernando Alonso drove his Toyota to an 11th place finish in the first stage of his Dakar debut. Pikes Peak winner Romain Dumas had to withdraw after his car caught fire, ending his rally.
The opening stage was from Jeddah to Al Wajh in Saudi Arabia’s first Dakar rally. This is the second year in a row that the rally has run entirely in one country; last year it was held in Peru. The event ends on January 17th in Qiddiyah after 12 stages.