AL WAJH, Saudi Arabia – Vaidotas Zala shocked onlookers by claiming the opening stage of the Dakar Rally on Sunday in Saudi Arabia.
This is the first year the event has been held in Saudi Arabia after most recently taking place in South America for the last 11 runnings. Sunday’s opening stage was 319 kilometers in length.
Zala, from Lithuania, drove his four-wheel-drive Mini to the stage victory by a little more than two minutes over multi-time Dakar Rally champion Stephane Peterhansel, who was also driving a Mini. Carlos Sainz, the 2018 Dakar champion, was third in class in another Mini.
Two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso, making his Dakar Rally debut, finished the stage 11th in the car class.
In the bike division, defending champion Toby Price got off to a strong start by claiming the stage win. He took over the top spot in the division from American Ricky Brabec around 100 kilometers into the stage and led the remainder of the distance, finishing just more than two minutes ahead of Brabec.
In the SxS class, Aron Domzala drove his Can-Am to victory over fellow Can-Am racer and American Casey Currie. The Truck division was won by Anton Shibalov, who overtook fellow Kamaz competitor Andrey Karginov in the final 100 kilometers. Ignacio Casale controlled the the quad class, winning the stage by more than five minutes.