The 45th Dakar Rally wasted no time in serving up drama on the sands of Saudi Arabia. Stage 1 of the world’s toughest rally raid saw the bike race’s defending champion crash out while fresh-faced challengers put their own names in the frame across the categories.

Following the relative calm of yesterday’s Prologue Stage, New Year’s Day brought with it an ultra-tough 368km/229-mile loop stage around the Dakar’s Sea Camp in Yanbu. The terrain swung between sandy ground and stony tracks before finishing up on the dunes.

It ended on a familiar note, though, with a stage win for Carlos Sainz — it’s the 42nd stage win of the Spanish rally legend’s illustrious Dakar career. The three-time Dakar winner guided his Audi RS Q e-tron E2 to top spot on day one alongside co-driver Lucas Cruz thanks to a real push for the line over the final 200km.

“We had one puncture at the beginning so after that we proceeded with caution over the stones,” related Sainz. “Then we were able to up the speed towards the end of the stage.”

Sainz was joined on the podium by Sebastien Loeb/Fabian Lurquin in their BRX Hunter. Also landing in the car race overall top 10 were Kuba Przygonski/Armand Monleon in a MINI John Cooper Works Plus and Stephane Peterhansel/Edouard Boulanger in their own Audi RS Q e-tron E2. Adding to the varied mix of manufacturers at the head of the race are defending champions Nasser Al-Attiyah/Mathieu Baumel in the Toyota GR DKR Hilux T1+.

One of the biggest smiles at the Stage 1 finish line belonged to Dakar rookie Lucas Moraes. The Brazilian and his co-driver Timo Gottschalk guided their Toyota Hilux back to the Sea Camp at Yanbu at the end of a successful opening stage.

“There were tricky parts in the rocks and narrow canyons, but it was great. To finish my first stage makes me very happy.” beamed Moraes.

Topping the times in the bike class was 2020 Dakar winner Ricky Brabec on his Honda. Within a minute of the American are the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing duo of Kevin Benavides and Toby Price.

Daniel Sanders of Red Bull GASGAS Factory Racing missed pretty much all of the previous year of racing through injury and is determined make each day count at this Dakar. Sanders is currently placed in the top 10 despite picking up a three-minute speeding penalty.

Sam Sunderland’s defense of his Dakar bike race title ended 52km/32 miles into today’s stage, where the Red Bull GASGAS Factory Racing rider crashed out. The two-time Dakar champion was helped at the scene of his accident by fellow biker Matthias Walkner.

“It’s been a long time since I raced and I found it really tough. What was really sad was finding my best buddy Sam on the ground — I hope he’s OK,” Walkner said.

Sunderland was airlifted to hospital in Yanbu where he was diagnosed with a broken shoulder blade.

Chaleco Lopez’s new Dakar has started where his last one finished, in the overall lead of the T3 category. The defending champion took the stage win for the Red Bull Can-Am Factory Team alongside co-driver Juan Pablo Latrach. Their T3 teammates Cristina Gutierrez/Pablo Moreno finished eighth fastest in class while Rokas Baciuska/Oriol Vidal delivered another winning result in the T4 category.

Taking second place on the T3 stage was Guillaume De Mevius/François Cazalet in their OT3. Then came all three crews of the Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team USA presented by BFGoodrich. Seth Quintero/Dennis Zenz, AJ Jones/Gustavo Gugelmin and Mitch Guthrie/Kellon Walch were third, fourth and seventh respectively on the stage. Quintero made clear he is playing the long game, though

“We’ve still got thousands and thousands of kilometers to go. A lot is going to happen in these next two weeks,” the American noted.

The Dakar convoy leaves the Sea Camp at Yanbu and heads east to Alula for tomorrow’s Stage 2. Giant boulders and deep canyons will feature throughout the 430km/267-mile timed special stage as well as a chain of desert dunes. Things will only get tougher from here!

Selected overall standings after Stage 1

T1 Car Class
1. Carlos Sainz (ESP) AUDI 03:28:55
2. Sebastien Loeb (FRA) BRX +00:10
3. Yazeed Al Rajhi (SAU) TOYOTA +02:01
6. Nasser Al-Attiyah (QAT) TOYOTA +07:07
8. Stephane Peterhansel (FRA) AUDI +08:51
9. Kuba Przygoński (POL) MINI +08:54
13. Lucas Moraes (BRA) TOYOTA +15:28
14. Mattias Ekstrom (SWE) AUDI +15:33
18. Giniel De Villiers (ZAF) TOYOTA +18:31
25. Laia Sanz (ESP) ASTARA +22:56

T3 Lightweight Prototype
1. Chaleco Lopez (CHL) CAN-AM 03:57:40
2. Guillaume De Mevius (BEL) OT3 +01:49
3. Seth Quintero (USA) CAN-AM +03:07
4. AJ Jones (USA) CAN-AM +03:32
Ignacio Casale (CHL) YAMAHA +04:00
7. Mitch Guthrie (USA) MCE5 +11:17
10. Cristina Gutiérrez (ESP) CAN-AM +19:07

1. Rokas Baciuska (LTU) CAN-AM 04:09:44
2. Eryk Goczal (POL) CAN-AM +02:14
3. Pau Navarro (ESP) CAN-AM +03:45

1. Ricky Brabec (USA) HONDA 04:14:10
2. Kevin Benavides (ARG) KTM +00:19
3. Toby Price (AUS) KTM +00:39
5. Daniel Sanders (AUS) GASGAS +00:45
19. Stefan Svitko (SVK) KTM +13:54
21. Matthias Walkner (AUT) KTM +17:52
25. Camille Chapeliere (FRA) HUSQVARNA +25:48
50. Mohammed Balooshi (ARE) HUSQVARNA +52:19