Aussie Sanders in fine Dakar Rally start

·2-min read

Australian rookie Daniel Sanders enjoyed a fine start to his first Dakar Rally, lying third in the motorcycle section after the race prologue in Saudi Arabia.

Qatar's Nasser Al-Attiyah led the cars after Saturday's action while defending champion Ricky Brabec got in the groove with the fastest time on two wheels.

But Sanders was only 13 seconds behind American Brabec on his Honda KTM and just seven seconds adrift of Spain's second-placed Joan Barreda.

Sanders' fellow Australian Toby Price, two-time winner of the Dakar bike class in 2016 and 2019, was lying ninth for the Red Bull KTM factory team, just 22 seconds behind.

"Prologue done. I'm in a good spot, situated roughly where I wanted to be so we are well and truely underway for #Dakar2021 and I'm excited for the days ahead," Price posted on Twitter.

"We'll wait and see what the Rally brings us but ready for the race."

Al-Attiyah, a three-time Dakar winner, completed the 11km timed section of the car race in five minutes 48 seconds and will open the road for Toyota in Sunday's first stage from the port city of Jeddah to Bisha.

"I'm glad we got the show on the road. The prologue is just an appetiser but it gives us a glimpse of where everyone stands," he said.

"Things get serious tomorrow with a long opening stage."

South African Brian Baragwanath set the same time as Al-Attiyah in his Century Racing buggy and will start in second place with local hope Yazeed Al-Rajhi third.

Defending champion Carlos Sainz, also a triple Dakar winner, lost time with a puncture in the first kilometre and was 36 seconds off the pace in his X-Raid Mini JCW buggy but happy to get going after days in quarantine.

The Dakar is the first major motorsport event of 2021 and the 43rd edition is taking place with strict health measures due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The competitors arrived on approved charter flights after Saudi Arabia closed its borders, with all of them having to quarantine and test negative before joining a 'bubble' in which they will spend the next two weeks.