Dakar Rally: Alonso 11th, Mini driver Zala in surprise early lead
Mini driver Vaidotas Zala claimed a shock maiden stage win on the first test of the 2020 Dakar Rally, as two-time Formula 1 world champion Fernando Alonso placed 11th
Toyota's defending champion Nasser Al-Attiyah led the way for most of the near-200-mile timed special on the coastal stage from Jeddah to Al Wajh that kicked off the first ever Saudi Arabia-based Dakar.
But the Qatari suffered three punctures late on, paving the way for an upset.
As the X-raid Mini buggies of multiple Dakar rally winners Stephane Peterhansel and Carlos Sainz Sr both lost several minutes early on, the privateer Peugeot of Khalid Al Qassimi and Zala's Mini assumed the leading positions heading into the final stretch of the stage.
Former World Rally Championship regular Al Qassimi suffered a late setback and lost more than a quarter of an hour, but Zala held firm to clinch the stage win by two minutes over Peterhansel.
Lithuanian Zala, who is part of the Agrorodeo outfit and has switched to Mini All4 Racing after finishing 12th overall in a Toyota last year, became the first driver to win a Dakar stage in a four-wheel drive Mini since Mikko Hirvonen in 2016.
Sainz made it a Mini 1-2-3 behind Zala and Peterhansel, while Al-Attiyah mitigated the damage of his late-stage dramas by taking fourth, 5m33s off the pace.
Alonso ended up 15m27s off the pace on his first-ever Dakar stage.
The double Le Mans 24 Hours winner, who said before the event he was targeting a rally with no 'stupid mistakes', is a minute and a half off the top 10 in his Toyota Hilux.
Previous Dakar winners Giniel de Villiers and Nani Roma had tough days, with both the Toyota Gazoo driver - who finished with a slow puncture - and new Borgward recruit Roma losing more than 20 minutes.
Two-time Le Mans 24 Hours winner Romain Dumas, whose previous Dakar outings were contested in privateer Peugeots, took the start in a DXX buggy developed by his RD Limited team.
But the factory Porsche GT racer dropped out just over 40 miles into the event as his car caught fire and he was forced to climb out.
Leading positions after stage one
|2||Stephane Peterhansel||Bahrain JCW X-Raid Team||Mini/BMW||2m14.s|
|3||Carlos Sainz||Bahrain JCW X-Raid Team||Mini/BMW||2m50.s|
|4||Nasser Al-Attiyah||Toyota Gazoo Racing||Toyota||5m33.s|
|5||Bernhard Ten Brinke||Toyota Gazoo Racing||Toyota||6m30.s|
|6||Mathieu Serradori||SRT Racing||Century/?||6m55.s|
|7||Orlando Terranova||X-Raid Team||Mini/BMW||7m15.s|
|8||Yazeed Al-Rajhi||Overdrive Toyota||Toyota||11m46.s|
|9||Vladimir Vasilyev||X-Raid G-Energy||Mini/BMW||13m25.s|
|10||Erik van Loon||Overdrive Toyota||Toyota||13m58.s|
|11||Fernando Alonso||Toyota Gazoo Racing||Toyota||15m27.s|
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