It was a day of mixed results for Hero MotoSports Team at the Dakar Rally here on Sunday.
The opening day saw the Hero riders mix caution with aggression given that it is going to be a long and arduous rally on difficult terrain.
Paulo Goncalves finished the stage in 12th place while Sebastian Buhler and C.S. Santosh came in 31st and 37th.
Goncalves rode in his trademark style, cautious to begin with and then raking up some good pace.
Buhler, on the other hand, had to make a small additional run to catch a waypoint, while Santosh had his first taste of the Saudi sands with a couple of minor crashes. But, overall, he managed to climb a few notches from his starting position.
However, not all went as per plan for the Hero Team as Joaquim Rodrigues suffered an unfortunate mechanical problem that forced him to forfeit the stage. He will try for a re-start on Monday — pending permission from the competitors' department and recovery of the bike — becoming the first competitor of the rally to avail the newly introduced ‘wild-card’ rule.
As per the rule, he will now be out of contention for overall placing, but remain in competition for stage results.
The stage took the rally from Jeddah to Al Wajh for a total run of 752km, including a special stage of 319km of fast and winding off-piste, dunes, trials and stones. Stage 2 on Monday will move to Neom, continuing along the Red Sea, for a special section of 367 km to be done on the clock.
After a gruelling race, Santosh said: “I was really excited to see what the Saudi terrain has to offer. It was a really fast stage and had some technical sections as well.
“I think I put together a good starting stage until after a tricky stony section where I had a crash and hurt my hand a bit. Overall, I am happy with my start and glad to see the back of Stage 1.”
The results (provisional rankings): Stage 1: Two-wheeler: 1. Toby Price (Red Bull KTM Racing) 3h 19m 33s; 2. Ricky Brabec (Monster Energy Honda Team) +02:05s; 3. Matthias Walkner (Red Bull KTM Racing) +02:40s.
(The writer is in Saudi Arabia at the invitation of Hero MotoCorp).