39 was the magic number of 2 January: with approximately 39°C in Paraguay, the brave adventurers of the 39th Dakar crossed the 39 timed kilometres of the 454 km of the first stage. 318 contenders were finally accepted on the starting line, including 144 motorcycles, 37 quads, 79 cars, 8 SSVs and 50 trucks, in other words 501 riders and drivers, copilots and team members!
Everyone first had to undergo the administrative and technical checks that took place on the Asunción air base, close to the contenders' base camp. Once this initiatory 'rite' was over, a last control post checked that all the stamps had been received. The mere 'contender' thus became a 'starter' of the Dakar but once you've received that status, the hardest part lies ahead! On 1 January, Etienne Lavigne, race director and Marc Coma, sports director, recalled at a short briefing the values of the Dakar and gave the last instructions. Then the contenders were presented on the start podium to the large throng of onlookers.
Day one of the race between Asunción and Resistencia could be likened to a formality given the short distance represented by the timed special. It did however serve at least three purposes, allowing the contenders to settle into the race, giving the trends sport-wise and determining the starting order for stage two, which is not the least of the aspects, above all for those aiming for the lead.
The two-wheeler teams supported technically by Motul, which set off on the world's most difficult off-road rally, made a success of their opening fray. They even held the first three places at the arrival of stage one. Joan Pedrero Garcia created a buzz by becoming the first leader of the 2017 Dakar at the wheel of his Sherco TVS of the French manufacturer's factory team. Monster Energy Honda Team (Honda Racing Corporation) took 2nd place thanks to the American Ricky Brabec, ahead of his team-mate Paulo Gonçalves. As Joan Barreda and Michael Metge were not far behind, things look promising for Honda which is intent on putting paid to KTM's domination of the rally. However, within the team, we regret Kevin Benavides' unfortunate retirement after fracturing his hand in training. It's really a pity when you realise that the Dakar practically goes past his house! What's more, the Argentinian rider was among the favourites after making a strong impression in 2016.
The caravan is preparing to enter Argentina where it will do a first leg before reaching Bolivia and its extreme altitudes.
While the 'spirit' of the Dakar was transposed intact from Africa to South America, another off-road rally is continuing to link France with the capital of Senegal. The two events both began on 2 January and will finish twelve days later. The Africa Eco Race, for which Motul is the official lubricant partner, will cross Morocco from north to south, visiting Mauritania, and will finish alongside Lake Retba (pink lake).
Before crossing the Mediterranean, the contenders were checked in Menton on 30 December. A parc fermé then awaited them a few kilometres from there on Quai Albert 1er in Monaco, where the official start was given by Adriana (ex-Karembeu). The contenders then took the direction of Sète to embark for Africa and spent New Year's Eve on the Mediterranean.
Several teams supported by Motul played their cards skilfully in the 610 kilometres of the first Moroccan stage between Nador and Domaine Moulay. The Ford-engine-fitted 2WD buggy driven by Thierry Magnaldi reached the end of the 86 kilometres of the timed section in slightly over an hour to rank 2nd, just 1’03 off the leader. Slightly further behind we found Mathieu Serradori and another Buggy bearing Motul's colours, that of Team SRT. At MD Rallye Sport, we noted the solid 5th place of Dominique Housieaux at the wheel of his Optimus and also witnessed the worries of Pascal Thomasse who had to stop a few minutes during the special and ranked 21st.
Motul also partners contenders of the 'Trunks-Motorcycle' category, which left without assistance and which can count only on the equipment carried in the Motul truck: tools and a few parts in a trunk, two spare wheels, a tent and a bag. To this is to be added minimum logistics supplied by the organisation as well as technical assistance and products proposed by Motul at each stop-over.
- 9th staging.
- Ecologically responsible organisation (e.g.: recovery of used oil with a view to recycling in France).
- 12 days of racing from 2 to 14 January (rest on Saturday 7).
- 6500 kilometres to be crossed.
- 38 motorcycles.
- Event director: Jean-Louis Schlesser (twice winner of the Dakar, six-times winner of the Africa Eco Race and twice Sports-Prototypes World Champion).
- Sports director: René Metge (treble winner of the Dakar).