The first stage of the Dakar 2022 finished with Sotnikov’s victory
The total area of deserts in Saudi Arabia is about one million square kilometers and covers almost half of the kingdom. Endless sandy expanses and great dunes rushing up to 200-300 meters, impassable mountainous areas and cunning stones, like a razor wishing to leave its deep mark on a car’s tire - this is how the place looks like where the Dakar Rally is held for the third year in a row."
Dakar is a competition in which the most enduring, the most technical and the most provident rider wins. Dakar is a race in which everything can turn over in a second: the favorite risks to go home ahead of time, and the newcomer - to climb to the top lines of the table. This is what happened on the first day of the marathon.
Sunday's special stage included 333 kilometers of a combat distance. The loop route, the first of five on this Dakar, became the most northern in the 44th rally edition. And on Saturday evening the bivouac in Ha’il was captured by bad weather, but heavy rain did not make serious adjustments to the teams’ work. But there was unpleasant news from the race organizers about the flooding of the camp in Al-Artawiyah, where the rally caravan was supposed to arrive at the end of the second stage. The bivouac was quickly moved to Al-Qaisumah, where the finish of the third stage was planned. At the time of writing the release there were no further possible changes in the route of the nearest special stages.
The Dakar-winningest and reigning car champion Stephane Peterhansel came to the Arabian Peninsula for his 15th title in his completely new Audi RS Q e-tron, a hybrid off-road car that combines petrol and electric engines. On Sunday, at the 120-km mark, "Mister Dakar" was second, yielding only to Nasser Al-Attiyah, but already after 33 kilometers the Frenchman crashed his advanced vehicle - the crew was not injured in the accident.
As for the truck classification, according to the prologue overall, due to the choice of starting positions, the crews of KAMAZ-master team were the first to conquer the Middle East off-road. The five-time winner of the rally-marathon Eduard Nikolaev was entrusted to open the Dakar 2022, and he was followed by Dmitry Sotnikov, Andrey Karginov and Anton Shibalov.
The first stage, designated as "1B", ran generally through sandy terrain, and mountainous landscapes of Saudi Arabia that only added beauty to the TV-picture. Fast and winding track in the first third of the route led the racers through valleys of large dunes along hard sandy surface, and already at the 127 km the pace slowed down due to entering mountainous area. It was here that Shibalov's crew opened the score for punctures in the Dakar, having lost about 10 minutes, and a bit later faced with a wheel change for the second time. And by the middle of the special stage, the Russian trio were ahead, led by Karginov.
Several competitors at once provided serious rivalry to the KAMAZ team - Ales Loprais, Janus van Kasteren, Ignasio Casale and Gert Huzink. Other representatives of the truck category were also perilously close. However, the closer to the finish line it was, the more their backlog became. Only Loprais was able to catch the top three, taking advantage of Karginov's hitch, who lost about 20 minutes due to difficult navigation. Many Dakar participants had to circle, searching for the desired hidden waypoint.
The current Dakar winner showed the best result of the day. Dmitry Sotnikov's time at the finish of the special stage was 3 hours 53 minutes 14 seconds. Eduard Nikolaev was just 38 seconds behind.
Dmitry Sotnikov, driver of crew No 500: “Today turned out an eventful day. The first part of the stage was sandy, a little unclear in terms of navigation. After about 50 kilometers, I had to change places with Eduard - we returned behind for a hidden waypoint. The road was clean and dust-free, which made it possible to go as fast as possible. And closer to the neutralization zone was a difficult trial climb. We chose the right direction, but the road began to get narrow, and we had to take no risk and go down - at that moment Eduard and Andrey rushed past us, and we followed them. After a 20-minute rest, we went to the site where we had been driving in 2020 - big slopes, sandy and hilly road. And farther ahead was the navigational puzzle - we saw Karginov circling, we tried to find the point with him. Other Dakar participants from different categories also arrived - all were looking for a way out, focusing on more experienced crews. Unfortunately, Andrey was unable to solve this puzzle quickly and wasted a lot of time."
Eduard Nikolaev, driver of crew No 505: “Today was a difficult navigation, and in the second part of the route very sharp stones awaited us, and we had to slow down a little to save the tires. Together with Karginov and Sotnikov we reached the neutralization zone - no one else was with us. And only when we started in 20 minutes, we saw van Kasteren driving up. After that, we continued to move with the guys in sight, but faced with further navigation difficulties. We had to circle around to find the right way. I thank my co-driver Evgenii Iakovlev that he could find the right way and our crew was first to get out of the trap."
The third line in the classification of the first stage was taken by Loprais. Following the Czech pilot, crews of Shibalov and Karginov settled down. Albert Llovera, who turned over the truck on Saturday passing the prologue, was close to withdraw. His Iveco suffered serious damage and lost its hood and bumper while trying to put the truck on wheels. The mechanics carried out repair of the truck all night and were able to prepare the vehicle for today's stage, however, the driver from Andorra started the last on Sunday: at first the truck stood for several hours in the liaison and couldn’t arrive to the start in due time, and when he received special permission from the stewards to start passing the special stage, he could not start moving on time.
Dmitry Nikitin, co-driver of crew No 501: “Everything started well for us, we could overtake Andrey Karginov, who started two minutes ahead. We understood that the pace was about the same and we were driving well, but closer to the middle of the special stage we punctured a wheel - we did not understand where we caught this stone. At this time, Casale drove us ahead, but we quickly caught up with him. And in the dust, trying to overtake, we saw that our rear right wheel was blowing down again. We had to stop again. Moreover we faced with a navigation puzzle, lost a lot of time at around the 270th kilometer”.
A 338-kilometer special stage is planned for the Dakar on Monday.