The 2007 running of the Dakar is now under way, having left Lisbon, Portugal earlier today. In fact, Portugal is proud today as the home town boy Ruben Faria has won the first stage. We’ll be keeping an eye on American boy Robbie Gordon in the car division. He wasn’t able to manage anything better than a 13th place finish on today’s stage.
Watch for ongoing coverage here in The Garage. TV coverage here in Canada begins tonight at 7 pm on OLN, with coverage every evening.
Read today’s official press release after the break
The Portuguese pulled out all the stops to welcome the three-day scrutineering of competitors for the 29th edition of the Dakar in Lisbon. They were even more convincing when it came down to the nitty-gritty of the rally. Ruben Faria on his bike and Carlos Sousa in his car were the yearÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s first winners, over an already very sandy route on which the main favourites for the race remained muted. Alphand, slowed down by a puncture, will start the second stage eleven minutes behind PortugalÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s finest. In the trucks, Gerard De Rooy was the quickest on the Dutch vehiclesÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ return to the rally.
Ruben Faria surprised everyone last year when he triumphed on the tracks of the Algarve, where the second special stage took place. The only thing that equals the determination of the leading rider of the Portuguese clan is his efficiency on his countryÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s tracks. On his first participation in 2006, the endurance champion finished 35th in Dakar. His return to the rally which gave him his hour of glory was spelled out in grand style. His approach of all-out attack worked like in 2006. After having overtaken almost 80 riders, Faria recorded a time out of reach of the leading riders, who by and large had decided to play it safe on this technical course full of pitfalls. Only his countryman Helder Rodrigues, who had already made a name for himself in the Portuguese stages last year, driven on by the same opportunity, got anywhere near to him, namely 16 seconds.
Thrilled by their stay in Portugal, the race favourites mainly saw this first special stage as a warm-up. Even though he had not intended to go hell for leather, preferring prudence to a show-time approach, Cyril Despres also had to slow the tempo due to technical constraints. The terrain was in such a state of degradation after the mass of previous competitors had made the sand even looser, that this caused problems with the fuel consumption of his KTM. Wary of running out of petrol, the KTM Gauloises leader decided to err on the side of caution. As far as Marc Coma was concerned, he also decided to go gently with the throttle, to avoid the stress of having to overtake often.
In the car category, Carlos Sousa was not able to bring joy to his home crowd last year on the AlgarveÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s tracks, finishing second in the first Portuguese stage. In 2007, behind the wheel of his new Volkswagen and on a much sandier course, the Portuguese driver made everyone happy this time by recording his first success since 2001. The local star took all the risks to pick up his 5th victory on the Dakar, really making the most of a longer and very technical route, leaving his closest rival, Giniel de Villiers, more than 2Ã¢â‚¬â„¢30 behind.
The South African, probably less motivated than Sousa who was in front of his home crowd, finished first of the official Volkswagens. In a first round of cat and mouse with rival Mitsubishi, the four cars of the German team snaffled the places between 2nd and 5th. Head and shoulders above the rest during last yearÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s special Portuguese stages, Carlos Sainz had to be happy with third place. The much-awaited racing reunion between the two former WRC rivals, Sainz and Ari Vatanen, respectively 3rd and 4th, did not disappoint, both of them finishing within the same second! Lastly, American Marc Miller rounded off the four in a row for VW.
As regards relative disappointments or the rallyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s first mechanical incidents, title-holder Luc Alphand lost 10 precious minutes due to a puncture after race kilometre 45. On such a short special stage, this type of problem can quickly become very costly. The newcomer to the BMW X-Raid team Jutta Kleinschmidt, had plenty more worries with her electrical problems. The GermanÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s progress was halted for a long while, in spite of the chivalrous assistance she received from team-mate Guerlain Chicherit, who nonetheless grabbed 6th place. In the end, Kleinschmidt lost more than 27 minutes on the dayÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s leader.
In the truck race, the De Rooy family, who made their return to the Dakar after a year away due to the non-compliance of their trucks in 2006, will promise a much harder race for the Kamaz team. Five-times winner Vladimir Chagin, who was also beaten by his runner-up in 2006 Hans Stacey, is already 5Ã¢â‚¬â„¢31 behind young Gerard, heir to the De Rooy dynasty.