On terrain with similar characteristics to those that the competitors will encounter throughout the first week of the race, the 2021 vice-champion Al-Attiyah completed the 19 km Prologue section between Jeedah and Ha’il in 10m56s while he launched his candidacy for a fourth victory on the Dakar to add to the previous successes of 2011, 2015 and 2019.
The Qatari driver, giving the new Toyota Hilux its Dakar prowess, took first place over his compatriot three-time Dakar champion, Sainz, who finished just 12 seconds behind the pace in Audi’s lead race.
However, while the 2010, 2018 and 2020 winner got to show off the raw speed of the new Audi on the opening day of the rally-raid, his teammates encountered a less successful outing.
The defending champion and 14-time Dakar winner Stéphane Peterhansel lost 1.12m to finish 14th, ahead of 2016 rallycross world champion Mattias Ekstrom in the third Audi.
Brian Baragwanath was a third surprise for Century Racing, edging out Toyota’s Henk Lategan and WRC legend Sébastien Loeb in the BRX Hunter built by Prodrive.
Competing with his new co-driver Fabian Lurquin, following his split from longtime sailor Daniel Elena, the nine-time WRC champion clocked 11m33s in his heavily revised Hunter T1 +.
Local driver Yazeed Al-Rajhi finished sixth in a Toyota Overdrive, just two seconds behind the second BRX car of 2014 winner Nani Roma.
Sainz was an impressive second on the debut of the new electric Audi
Photo by: ASO
Toyota factory driver Giniel de Villier, who was at risk of missing the rally after a previous positive COVID-19 test, finished eighth ahead of Jakub Przygonski and his Orlen-sponsored mini buggy.
Orlando Terranova made sure all three Prodrive cars finished in the top 10 with a time of 11.57m.
With previous star drivers Peterhansel and Sainz departing for Audi, the X-raid Mini team failed to record a single finisher in the top 15, with Yasir Seaidan being their best rider in 17th position.
Further on, Sainz Extreme E teammate Laia Sanz provisionally placed 43rd in her first Dakar in the car category, the ex-KTM rider having signed a contract with X-raid to drive a Mini All4 Racing.
After the 595 km link at Ha’il, the top 10 will have the choice of their starting position for the 334 km special on Sunday, with Al-Attiyah having the final say on his starting position.