Updated: Monday, 06 January 2014 05:07 | By Agence France-Presse

Sousa takes Dakar opener, Peterhansel hits trouble

Portugal's Carlos Sousa, driving a Haval, claimed the opening stage of the 36th Dakar Rally on Sunday, but double defending champion Stephane Peterhansel lost time after suffering a puncture.


Sousa takes Dakar opener, Peterhansel hits trouble

Portuguese Carlos Sousa competes during the Stage 1 of the Rally Dakar 2014 between Rosario and San Luis, Argentina, on January 5, 2014

Sousa finished the 180km special from Rosario to San Luis in 2hr 20min 36sec with Argentina's Orlando Terranova, in a Mini, 11 seconds behind and fellow Mini driver, Qatar's 2011 champion Nasser Al-Attiyah, in third, 47 seconds back.

France's Peterhansel, in a third Mini, and seeking a 12th overall title (after six on motorcycles and five in cars), suffered a puncture and was down in sixth place, 4min 21sec behind Sousa.

"It was a good day for us, a beautiful stage in which we didn't take too many risks. I caught up with Stephane Peterhansel towards the end, he let me through and I think we ended up posting a good time," said Al-Attiyah.

Honda's Joan Barreda clocked a time of 2hr 25min 31sec to take the motorcycle stage with Spanish compatriot Marc Coma, on a KTM, 37 seconds behind.

Frenchman Cyril Despres, the defending champion and seeking a sixth career title, was in third, 1min 40sec off the provisional leader.

"I'm really happy with the first stage. At the beginning I had some trouble easing into the race due to a slight problem with the suspension, but afterwards everything went smoothly," said Barreda.

"We'll work on it to ride even faster tomorrow. I'll try to keep up this pace in the next few stages."

Despres, the champion in 2005, 2007, 2010, 2012 and 2013, said it had been an emotional day for him on his debut for Yamaha, having switched from KTM this year.

"180km of this was a great way to get the ball rolling. I took some time to find my bearings and ease into my pace," said Despres.

"The first special is always tough when you come from cold Europe and you get thrown into the thick of things, so I'm happy to get good feelings. 

"I got a bit emotional at the start, what with starting a new adventure... It was a difficult year, with the decision to move to Yamaha, and then having to prepare the motorcycle, working with the entire team... So when D-Day comes, it feels good to be racing again."

This year, 431 vehicles, taking part in the auto, motorbike, quad and lorry events, will cross Argentina, Bolivia and Chile.

But they could run into environmental protests along the way with fears over the impact of the race on the world's highest salt flats at Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia, despite only the motorcycles being allowed to cross into the country.

In Chile, concerns have been raised over possible damage caused by the vehicles roaring over the Inca Trail.

The second stage of the race on Monday is over 400km from San Luis to San Rafael.

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