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Dakar 2009: Early pace-setter Chicherit crashes in the dust.

X-raid BMW laid notice of its intent to win the 2009 Dakar Rally, when Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and Swedish co-driver Tina Thörner set the overall fastest time through the opening 371km special stages between Buenos Aires and Santa Rosa de la Pampa on Saturday. The Qatari was the quickest driver on the course to the opening passage control and then inherited a lead that his team mate Guerlain Chicherit had held through the subsequent two passage controls, when the Frenchman lost his path in the dust, struck a hole and damaged the suspension on his BMW X3 CC.

Argentinean driver Orlando Terranova started brightly and held fourth in the stage, before slipping to seventh at the finish, while both Dutchman Peter van Merksteijn and Leonid Novitskiy began on a good pace, with the Russian holding an 12th position.

Two hundred and seventeen bikes, 25 quads, 177 cars, 81 trucks eventually headed into the first of the timed specials between Buenos Aires and Santa Rosa de la Pampa, after an estimated 500,000 people had lined the streets of Buenos Aires and attended the official ceremonial start on Friday evening.

Nasser Al-Attiyah posted his intention of taking an outright victory from the start and was the fastest driver through the opening PC of the 2009 Dakar, the Qatari edging 11 seconds in front of American Mark Miller, with X-raid team mate Guerlain Chicherit holding third position. But Chicherit hit the front at the second passage control at the 248km point, with Germany’s Dieter Depping and Al-Attiyah running second and third fastest on the road. The Frenchman maintained a 14-second lead over Depping through the third control. Al-Attiyah held third position and Argentinean team mate Orlando Terranova was running well up the field and hovering in fourth position.

X-Raid’s Dutch Dakar debutant Peter van Merksteijn was an impressive 10. overall, with X-Raid’s Russia’s Leonid Novitskiy in 12 and René Kuipers down in 21st overall.

But Chicherit’s spirited early run was curtailed after the final passage control Tomorrow (Sunday) marks the longest day of the entire event - a punishing 837km section between Santa Rosa de la Pampa and the tourist centre of Puerto Madryn, the head town of the Viedma department in the Patagonian province of Chubut. The day’s competitive action begins close to the overnight bivouac and extends for 237km, offering tricky navigation and a mixture of fast gravel and sandy sections, with two passage controls.

The bulk of the day is made up of a tiring 600km liaison section across the Rio Negro, passing the Rio Colorado and the town of General Conesa to arrive at Puerto Madryn near the Atlantic coast, the Gulf of San Matias and the entrance to the Valdes Peninsula. The city has strong Welsh connections and was founded in July 1865, when 150 Welsh immigrants arrived by clipper and named the town in memory of a Welsh landowner.

2009/01/03 | 23:46 CET | Editor: MR/HS/M.Theisen

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