Dakar: De Soultrait draws first blood on opening day

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French satellite Yamaha rider Xavier de Soultrait has drawn first blood on the opening day of action at the 2017 Dakar Rally, taking the stage win in Paraguay by two seconds from Sherco rider Joan Pedrero and American Ricky Brabac on the Monster Energy Honda.

The Yamaha junior team rider topped the stage by two seconds from the Spaniard, doing exactly what he admitted before the race started he was out to do – impress his Japanese bosses.

“Last year, I wanted to convince an official team to trust me. It paid off! My 13th place finish was beyond my expectations and I am now part of the official Yamaha team as a junior driver. I know that I am still here this year to learn, my inspiration being the greatest pilots, those who have marked for years, like Peterhansel, Despres, Coma. With the experience gained in 2014 and 2015, it is clear that I will try my luck whenever possible. My goal remains to sign a solid top 15, or even to get closer to the top ten.”

It was a steady day for the pre-race favourites, however, with none of them extending themselves this early in the race. Honda rider Paolo Goncalves was the first of the front-runners in fifth, just ahead of Brit Sam Sunderland and fellow Honda rider Joan Barreda in sixth and seventh, while reigning champion Toby Price cruised home in a distant 17th, some 44 seconds down on de Soultrait.

Lyndon Poskitt was the next of the British contingent in 51st, with Max Hunt 98th, Kurt Burroughs in 121st, and David Watson 125th out of the day’s 141 two-wheeled finishers.

Tomorrow’s stage sees the race leave Paraguay and back into the familiar territory of Argentina – but with heavy dust forecast for the 275km special stage, it could be a stressful day as navigation and keeping a cool head comes into play.

Simon Patterson

By Simon Patterson

MotoGP and road racing reporter, photographer, videographer