Qatar’s Nasser Al-Attiyah was stripped of victory on the opening stage of the Dakar Rally for exceeding the speed limit, while defending champion Nani Roma saw his hopes shattered.
Mini driver Al-Attiyah, the 2011 champion with Volkswagen, had finished first on the 170km timed stage between Buenos Aires and Villa Carlos Paz, clocking 1 hour 12 minutes.
That was 22 seconds faster than Argentina’s Orlando Terranova, also in a Mini, and 1min 04secs ahead of American Robby Gordon behind the wheel of a Hummer.
But seven hours later, Al-Attiyah was punished for travelling at 68km/h in a section of the stage where the limit was 50km/h.
He was penalised two minutes and relegated to seventh place on the stage with Terranova declared the winner ahead of Gordon and South Africa’s Giniel de Villiers in a Toyota.
It was also a miserable first day for Roma as the Spaniard’s Mini broke down after just 10km and he eventually ended the day being towed home in 135th place and six and a half hours off the lead.
In the motorbike section, Britain’s Sam Sunderland on a KTM was fastest in 1hr 18min 57secs, five seconds faster than Paulo Goncalves of Portugal on a Honda and 1min 12secs ahead of last year’s winner Marc Coma on a KTM.
This year’s rally features a gruelling 9,000 kilometres trek through Argentina, Chile and Bolivia before arriving back in Buenos Aires for a January 17 finish.
This year’s event, the seventh in South America since its enforced transfer for security reasons from Africa, is the 37th of all time.
The 2014 race takes the Dakar caravan from the Atacama, the driest spot on the planet, to the Iquique dunes and crossing the Andes at the highest point on Argentina’s Route 40, the 4,970m mountain pass of Abra del Acay.
In all, there will be 4,600km of special stages including a 781km time trial from the Bolivian city of Uyuni to Chile’s Pacific Coast.