Al-Attiyah claims opening stage of Dakar Rally

Asunción, Jan 3 (IANS) Qatari driver Nasser Al-Attiyah has claimed the first stage of the Dakar Rally as he aims to win the off-road endurance race for a third time.

The 46-year-old finished the 38.5km Asuncion-Resistencia special stage in 25 minutes 41 seconds in his Toyota on Monday, comfortably ahead of former world rally champion Xevi Pons, who was 24 seconds behind in his Ford Ranger, reports Xinhua news agency.

Pons’ fellow Spaniard Nani Roma was third in his Toyota, a further five seconds off the pace.

Nine-time world rally champion Sebastien Loeb was sixth – 55 seconds behind Al-Attiyah – while last year’s champion Stephane Peterhansel crossed the line in 12th, 1 minute and 34 seconds adrift of the leader.

After the stage, Al-Attiyah revealed that he had to content with a fire in his vehicle.

“About a dozen kilometres out from the finish we smelt smoke by (co-driver) Matthieu’s (Baumel) seat and there was a bit of a fire,” Al-Attiyah told reporters.

“We slowed down to finish the stage and were able to put it out at the finish.”

Earlier, Australia’s defending champion Toby Price clinched the opening stage of the motorcycle event on his KTM.

The 2017 Dakar Rally will feature 12 stages, covering more than 9,000km in Paraguay, Bolivia and Argentina before ending in Buenos Aires on January 14.