The first stage of the 2018 Dakar Rally was the shortest at just 31 kilometres, but it already provided a sharp taste of the action to come, with competitors launched straight into the dunes. All four Peugeot 3008DKR Maxi crews concentrated on getting through the stage with no problems.
Starting first on the road by virtue of their 2017 win, Stephane Peterhansel / Jean-Paul Cottret finished the stage 11th after adopting a relatively cautious approach. They had a scare on the road section just a few kilometres before the stage when they were hit from behind by another vehicle, but without damage.
"I was not really confident in the dunes today," said last-years winner Stéphane Peterhansel. "The sun was really high, so there was no shadow at the top of the dunes which made them difficult to read. We came across a biker who had fallen. Because I didn’t really have the feeling, I decided to play it safe, and we’ll see how we go tomorrow."
In the hot conditions, Cyril Despres / David Castera got off to a solid start from the Peruvian capital of Lima with the 15th best time. While they set a consistent pace through the sandy stage, they are more than aware that the real test only starts tomorrow. "It was a decent enough start; I was cool, no real problems," Despres told. "The dunes were a bit of a white-out but my feeling with the car was good. The wind was blowing a bit of sand off the crests, the visibility wasn’t great. If anything the stage was a bit short for my taste: I prefer the longer endurance stages, but our overall time was fine. I’m feeling positive and the main thing now is that the Dakar is finally underway; it’s great to be here and I’m looking forward to what comes next."
Former Dakar winners Carlos Sainz and Lucas Cruz made use of their vast experience to survive the sand dunes and reach the Pisco bivouac one place behind Despres/Castera in 16th place. "Overall, it was the sort of stage where there was far more to lose than to gain. By attacking, you might get a few seconds...or lose a few minutes. So we decided to proceed carefully. The car is working well. The serious stuff starts tomorrow."
For Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena the focus had to be on reaching the end of the stage after they suffered a problem with their brakes early in the stage, finishing five minutes down. "It was terrible for me because I lost the brakes completely after three kilometers, and I did 28 kilometers without brakes at all. I had to go very slow because it was quite tricky over the crests of the dunes: You couldn’t see the downhill and it was easy to make a mistake. It was important not to take any risks in this situation, so I just finished the stage, this is what I wanted after the problem. We are here, we will solve it and it will be a new start tomorrow, but a difficult start today. I think it’s just a brake problem so in the service it shouldn’t be a problem.”
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