Smoke on the water as Dakar scorches the road in Paraguay


Last night’s podium presentation on the urban roads of Asunción is now a distant memory as the 2017 Dakar Rally left Paraguay’s capital city and headed out into the wilderness. A short and bittersweet timed special stage saw the first race results posted and some familiar names are making their mark at the top of the early leaderboards.

The big guns in the car race wasted no time in reviving the rivalries that have characterised the Dakar since it arrived in South America. Stage winner Nasser Al-Attiyah (QAT) grabbed an impressive advantage of over a minute on defending champion Stéphane Peterhansel (FRA) during the 39km sprint through the Paraguayan countryside. The drama did not stop there though, an oil leak combined with the intense heat on the stage to cause a small fire to break out in the front left wheel case of Al-Attiyah’s Toyota Hilux. The blaze was quickly extinguished at the finish line and the car has been returned to the bivouac for further investigation.

While Peterhansel kept his PEUGEOT 3008 DKR within 1m30s of Al-Attiyah at the front there was plenty more four wheeled talent crowding into the business end of the rankings. Peterhansel’s fellow Team Peugeot Total drivers Carlos Sainz (ESP), Sébastien Loeb (FRA) and Cyril Despres (FRA) all find themselves in the Top 10 while Al-Attiyah’s Toyota Gazoo Racing companion Giniel De Villiers (RSA) is also there, standing fifth overall.

It was certainly a stage that favoured the four-wheel drive cars as they took all three podium spots, with Sainz’s PEUGEOT 3008 DKR the first two-wheel drive car to come home. Peugeot’s D-ream Team of drivers will get the chance to take advantage of conditions further down the Dakar road as the landscape begins to change in their favour.

The Red Bull KTM Factory Team have won the last 15 Dakars and have no intention on giving up their grip on the bike race this time around. Matthias Walker (AUT) and Sam Sunderland (GBR) both enjoyed their return to action with Top 10 placings on the opening stage. Their team-mate and reigning Dakar champ Toby Price (AUS) is also well placed with a Top 20 result alongside Stefan Svitko (SVK) and Daniel Nosiglia (BOL). Hélder Rodrigues (POR) is within 2m30s of early leader Xavier De Soultrait (FRA) after bringing home his Yamaha in 27th place.

There was plenty for host continent South America to celebrate on the first day of quad race with Brazilian, Argentinian and Paraguayan riders sharing the opening stage podium. Fans of 2014 Dakar winner Ignacio Casale (CHI) will be encouraged by his Top 10 result as he keeps in contact with the pacesetters.

Things also remain tight in the truck race with all four Team Kamaz Master machines coming through the day unscathed and in touch with the lead. Russian drivers Ayrat Mardeev, Eduard Nikolaev, Dmitry Sotnikov and Anton Shibalov will hope to use favourable starting positions to their advantage on the stages to come.

There’s no more baby steps tomorrow as a timed special stage of 275km awaits all competitors who have made it this far. Expect extreme temperatures and wild landscapes to dominant proceedings on Stage Two’s route between Resistencia and San Miguel de Tucumán. With Paraguay now waved a fond farewell the harsh terrain of northern Argentina will be the Dakar’s home for the next few days.