Daniel Sanders, who claimed top rookie honours and finished just outside the podium last year, grabbed his maiden Dakar stage win in the opener short special of Dakar 2022 overnight.
It was a first in more than one way, as the Australian also netted GASGAS its first triumph in the most prestigious rally raid on Earth. As the icing on the cake, it was the first victory for the new 450 platform being used across the GASGAS, KTM and Husqvarna team, the latest showpiece of the Mattighofen factory, unveiled in Morocco last year. GASGAS is the 13th constructor to take a stage in Dakar, the rally had not feted a new winner since 2010, when Sherco and Aprilia opened their accounts.
After departing Jeddah along the Red Sea for a northbound 225 km transfer, the starting shot for the qualifying stage was fired at the entrance to the Medina region. The opening 19 km sprint was a sign of things to come: sandy tracks and dunes in an all-sand timed sector in which the entrants crowned and gobbled up dunes, sometimes even broken ones, and climbed to an altitude of close to 400 metres.
On this power hike, competitors were expected to bring their A game from the beginning for the special before the caravan then headed north-east for a 614 km liaison to Ha’il, where the grand start podium awaited the participants for tomorrow’s stage 1B on a loop course.
Pablo Quintanilla crossed the finish-line twelve seconds adrift of the day’s winner, Daniel Sanders. The prologue’s conversion factor, a coefficient of five, put him one minute behind the Australian, with the Monster Energy Honda Team rider now lying in second place in the rally’s overall standings.
Daniel Sanders – P1
“It’s cool to win my first Dakar special. I was really comfortable in the stage, the bike was handling unreal. It’s cool to show some speed, but the navigation has to start tomorrow. Looking forward to a long race. I knew I had to be fast in the prologue. If there’s not too much navigation, I can be in the top 3 or 5 in the prologue. This will give me a good spot to start from 10th to 15th tomorrow, I get to choose. It’s cool to win my first Dakar special.”
Pablo Quintanilla – P2
“I’m very happy with the way we have started the year. It was a short prologue, but it was intense, fast, with dunes and some rocks, but it helped me to get my nerves sorted out and start to get into the swing of things little by little. My goal was to finish in the top four and I finished second, so I did it and I’ll be able to choose a good starting position for tomorrow, which is an important stage with over 300 kilometres of special. It will be complicated. It will be important to start from the rear. We hope to have a good first week of rallying.”
Ross Branch was third quickest on a day where riders were most definitely playing a tactical game.
KTM Factory Racing duo Kevin Benavides of Argentina was P4 and Austria’s Matthias Walkner P5.
Kevin Benavides – P4
“It’s never easy to get started at the Dakar. There are always some nerves and lots of emotion. I was feeling a bit rigid at the beginning, but I managed to relax as I got into the stage.”
Former champion Sam Sunderland was seventh behind Adrien Van Beveren, while two-time winner Toby Price was one place further back in eighth.
Joan Barreda was the second rider in the RallyGP group to take the start. With a lot of dust in the air over the opening stretches and without any major references ahead, the Spaniard posted tenth on the day. Honda team-mate American Ricky Brabec opted not to push too hard on the first day and took P12, however, without dropping any significant time to his rivals.
Ricky Brabec – P12
“I think the Dakar really starts tomorrow. It was just a prologue and a big transfer day. Today was just really for starting positions. I didn’t do the best, so it looks like I’m going to be starting from the front, more or less, tomorrow. There is still the whole Dakar to race; we have twelve days more of racing. So today was a kind of transfer day just to get to Ha’il. The team is here. We are looking healthy, so let’s keep moving forwards, keep the spirits high and let’s keep the finish in sight.”
In his usual fashion, José Ignacio Cornejo produced a fairly reserved prologue. The Chilean from Iquique, who is 25th, will pick up the pace as the race progresses and was happy to be well back in the pack during the opening stage.
José Ignacio Cornejo – P21
“Today, there was a lot to be gained, but even more to be lost in the middle of the pack of 15, so I decided to play it safe. I lost some time today, but I’ll get opportunities to claw it back in the coming days.”
MotoGP rider Danilo Petrucci completed his first dip at Dakar in P23.
Aussie privateer Andrew Houlihan made a safe start to his second Dakar campaign and finished Stage 1A in 115th.
On Saturday evening, at the drivers’ briefing, the top finishers chose the starting order for tomorrow’s stage 1B, a looping stage in Ha’il, including 333 kilometres of special stage. Friday fast man Daniel Sanders selected start position #15. Pablo Quintanilla will start in fourteenth position, whilst Brabec will start from fourth and Barreda from sixth. Cornejo will start in the same position he finished today. It will be run over sandy tracks, reaching an altitude of 1,300 metres, with a fair degree of navigational complexity.
However, not all of the route will be against the clock: a total of 181 kilometres of liaison section will complete the day’s 514-kilometre total. The departure from the Ha’il bivouac will be at 0545 and the first riders are expected to arrive back at the bivouac from 1245 (local time) onwards.
Dakar 2022 Results Prologue (Stage 1A)
SANDERS Daniel AUS Gas Gas Factory Team 00:55’30
QUINTANILL Pablo CHI Monster Energy Honda Team +00:01’00
BRANCH Ross BWA Monster Energy Yamaha Rally Team +00:01’55
BENAVIDES Kevin ARG Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Team +00:02’00
WALKNER Matthias AUT Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Team +00:02’35
VAN BEVEREN Adrien FRA Monster Energy Yamaha Rally Team +00:02’40
SUNDERLAND Sam GBR Gas Gas Factory Team +00:02’55
PRICE Toby 18 Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Team +00:02’55
SHORT Andrew USA Monster Energy Yamaha Rally Team +00:03’00
BARREDA Joan SPA Monster Energy Honda Team +00:03’00
RODRIGUES Joaquim POR Hero Motorsports Team Rally +00:03’05
BRABEC Ricky USA Monster Energy Honda Team +00:03’55
BENAVIDES Luciano ARG Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing +00:04’05
MICHEK Martin CZE Orion Moto Racing Group +00:04’15
COX Bradley RSA BAS DAKAR KTM RACING TEAM +00:05’30
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