Reigning Dakar champion Nasser Al-Attiyah got the world’s toughest rally underway with a short prologue stage, a concept that first used to be a hallmark of the race back in the days when it left from Paris in France to head down through Europe into Africa.
It’s just a short stage – only 11 kilometres this year – but there can still be plenty of dramas. One of the most famous incidents on a prologue stage occurred back in 1987, when one of the pre-rally favourites, Ari Vatanen, crashed on the prologue and dropped to 274th place before the event had even properly started!
So while you can never win the rally on the prologue stage, you can certainly lose it there: a fact that Nasser and his co-driver Mathieu Baumel were more than well aware of. Caution was the watchword for this short gravel stage – designed as a warm-up for the real action that is to follow – before Nasser and Mathieu embarked on the considerably longer 335-kilometre liaison section to the ‘light bivouac’ at Rosario, which is a bivouac without the usual facilities that characterise the overnight halts on the Dakar.
Last year, Nasser and Mathieu pushed hard from the very first stage to build up a lead, but this year the circumstances were different, as the Qatari explained:
“There was no prologue stage last year, which meant that we were straight into a long stage and we could push,” said the two-time Dakar winner. “On such a short stage there is no need to push because you will not make a big difference. However, it’s still an important stage because it counts towards the starting order for tomorrow.”
The MINI crew finished the prologue stage fourth overall, having avoided trouble from start to finish.
“The real rally starts tomorrow,” concluded Nasser. “We will be trying then to do what we did last year, to push and see if we can take the lead. But it’s important to make sure that your strategy is flexible: no two years are identical and you have to take the roads as you find them. We need to establish a good pace, but without any risks.”
After overnighting at Rosario (which is also the rally finish in a fortnight’s time) northwest of Buenos Aires, Nasser and Mathieu will set off at just after 7am for the third-shortest stage of the rally – but that is still 258 kilometres.