Guillaume de Mevius took victory for the Overdrive Toyota team in Saturday’s first official stage of the 46th Dakar Rally, a 414km/257-mile run from Al-’Ula to Al Henakiyah. It was the Belgian driver’s fourth career Dakar stage win, but his first in the premier Ultimate class.

De Mevius had ranked only 32nd in Friday’s prologue, but surged ahead of prologue winner Mattias Ekström and his Audi RS Q e-tron teammate, Dakar veteran Carlos Sainz Sr. on Saturday, finishing with a 1m44s advantage over the Spaniard. Toyota’s Giniel de Villiers finished third, some 10 minutes behind the leader, ahead of Vaidotas Zala (X-Raid Mini) and sports car/Pikes Peak ace Romain Dumas, who is driving a Rebellion-entered Toyota Hilux this year.

“A great introduction. We drove smart and avoided punctures and I think that was the key today,” said de Mevius. “But I’m quite surprised to finish so high up.”

Surprised in a less pleasant way were defending champion Nasser Al-Attiyah and his Prodrive teammate Sebastien Loeb, both of whom had troubled runs and have a lot of catching up to do. Loeb ranks just 20th, 22 minutes down, while Al-Attiyah is 22nd, 25 minutes behind.

“We punctured twice in the first 50 kilometers, so after that we couldn’t really attack anymore and we just tried to reach the finish,” explained Al-Attiyah. “Even so, I’m happy because it was really difficult and we had to take it really easy in the last 150 kilometers.” Punctures also delayed Loeb.

Ross Branch took the stage win in the motorcycle class. The Botswanan was leading the special when he stopped to assist Tosha Schareina after the Spaniard crashed. Although he crossed the finish line in 16th place, he was credited 25 minutes back and tops the early leader board over America’s Ricky Brabec by 11m54s.

“Today was tough. Yesterday, in the briefing, they said it’d be physical demanding and long, and they were right for sure,” said Monster Energy Honda rider Brabec. “It was long, it was tricky and it was rocky. I started a little bit in the back today but I mean, that only helped for a little bit then. I was up front with my teammates, Skyler and Nacho and we pushed really hard all the way to the finish. It was definitely a tough day and the bike didn’t touch the ground. So I think the mechanic is going to be happy…”

In quads, Marcelo Medeiros claimed his ninth career Dakar stage win. Juraj Varga surged near the end, but he finished 2m40s behind the Brazilian. Laisvydas Kancius edged out Manuel Andújar for the podium at over 10 minutes down.