No fewer than five MINI race cars ended day one of the Dakar 2020, from Jeddah to Al Wajh, in the top ten! The Lithuanian pairing of Vaidotas Zala and Saulius Jurgelenas made history in their MINI John Cooper Works Rally, winning the opening leg of the first Dakar in Saudi Arabia. Stéphane Peterhansel (FRA) and Paulo Fiuza (POR) finished runner-up in the MINI John Cooper Works Buggy, ahead of team-mates Carlos Sainz and Lucas Cruz (both ESP).
The two MINI JCW Rally crews of Orlando “Orly” Terranova / Bernardo “Ronnie” Graue (both ARG) and Vladimir Vasilyev (RUS) / Vitaly Yevtyekhov (UKR) finished seventh and ninth to round off a great result.
Zala improved his position over the course of the special stage and ultimately took the lead with just a few kilometres remaining. The Lithuanian is making his first appearance with a MINI at the Dakar. "I am so happy to drive this MINI, we would never have achieved such a result in our previous cars," says Zala excitedly. "I immediately noticed the difference on the first few kilometres of the stage. The first stage was not easy, but we managed to avoid punctures. I never expected such a great result."
For Peterhansel and Fiuza it was a good first day. The duo was unable to complete many kilometres together prior to the rally, but were still up there among the leaders from the word go. “It was a good start to the 2020 Dakar and we had to find our way a few times. Paulo and I work well together, but we still have to get used to each other a bit,” said Peterhansel. “But we did not make any major mistakes and we did not have a flat tire. The stage was a mixture of canyon with many stones, followed by dunes and finally a fast passage through a valley.”
Sainz and Cruz had a rather more eventful first day. They recovered from an issue to work their way through to third place. “We briefly went the wrong way after a waypoint and then picked up a puncture later on,” Sainz reported. “On the whole, it did not go too badly, as I thought we would have lost a lot more time. I am happy.”
Terranova and Graue also finished in the top ten in seventh place. The two Argentineans were consistently in the top ten and have set themselves up nicely for tomorrow’s leg. "It was a beautiful stage. 20 km after the start we had caught up on Alonso, but on the passage it was impossible to overtake. We managed that after neutralization. Then we got a bit lost and lost time. Later we helped Al-Qassimi back on his tyres because he had rolled over. After that we had to change a flat tyre. In spite of everything that happened, I'm happy because the MINI runs great."
Jakub “Kuba” Przygonsky and Timo Gottschalk were forced to stop with a technical issue shortly after the neutralisation phase. They are currently still in the stage.
Day two takes the competitors from Al Wajh to Neom. In total, they will cover 26 liaison kilometres and 367 kilometres against the clock.
Source: X-raid Team press release