This year’s edition of the Dakar Rally began on the first day of 2022. The first weekend of the competition did not hesitate to highlight the favorite for this two-week event, Nasser Al-Attiya. The three debuting electric Audis showed speed but were all knocked out of contention. BRX’s Sébastien Loeb seems to be the only other driver in the car class able to keep up with the Toyota driver.
The rally began with Stage 1A, which commenced with a short 11.8-mile prologue in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The prologue determined the starting order for the rally proper as the rest of Stage 1A consisted of a 369.7-mile transfer stage to the starting and finishing point of Stage 1B, Ha’il, in the northern part of the country. Stage 1B is where the action started in earnest with a circular 206.9-mile special stage, taking competitors across desert sands and rough outcroppings.
Nasser Al-Attiya driving a new factory Toyota GR DKR Hilux T1+ was the fastest during the prologue, and things didn’t change during Stage 1B. He won the stage and led the rally by 12 minutes and 44 seconds over Sébastien Loeb in a BRX Prodrive Hunter T1+. Al-Attiya faced pressure from Audi, but the challenge quickly faded as the day went on.
Audi’s hopes of winning the RS Q e-tron’s debut Dakar ended on the first stage. 14-time Dakar winner Stéphane Peterhansel had the best chances out of the three Audi entries. Within a minute of the leading Toyota, he ran second until he crashed. Peterhansel hit a stone on a rocky portion of the route. The impact pulled his left-rear wheel off his Audi, twisting the suspension and damaging the wheel rim.
Three-time Dakar winner and Peterhansel’s teammate Carlos Sainz Sr. got lost in the desert for over two hours due to a particularly confusing note in the roadbook provided by the rally organizers. Sainz, among others, had difficulty finding a waypoint, which led to many competitors approaching the area from different directions. He nearly had a head-on collision with Nani Roma’s BRX Hunter as the Hunter passed over a crest in front of him. Sainz finished the stage 47th, over 2 hours and 22 minutes behind Nasser Al-Attiya.
Mattias Ekström also got lost with his teammate Sainz. Though, he would skip the waypoint and take a 15-minute penalty. Ekström was the highest-placed Audi driver, finishing 36th, an hour and 45 minutes behind the leader. All three Audis, including a re-entering Peterhansel, will continue this year’s Dakar primarily to test and develop the RS Q e-tron for future editions of the cross-country classic.