Rockstar Energy Husqvarna factory rider Pablo Quintanilla, clearly comfortable riding at home in Chile, took line honours in the opening stage of the Atacama Rally, which took riders over a very dusty 231 km timed special as they travelled from Antofagasta to Calama.
Quintanilla finished with a slim one minute 13 seconds lead over KTM rival Toby Price on a day where dust played a major factor for all riders.
Pablo Quintanilla: “I was able to start running at my pace at km 100 so deciding to go off at sixth was good, because I got out of the dust and accelerated smoothly,” he commented, adding that it was a difficult start and very technical.
The win was a statement of the Chilean’s intentions for the rest of the rally, which goes through to Saturday and takes the riders over many hundreds of kilometres. The Atacama is renowned for being the driest region on the plant and the rally embraces terrain that is familiar to riders from former Dakar Rallies.
Quintanilla’s factory team colleague Pela Renet of France was a solid eighth in the opening stage, but lost only 14 minutes 41 seconds in a particularly hard day. Although not long in terms of kilometres, the extremely dusty conditions, and the technical start made it difficult for all riders.
Pela Renet: “I was eighth today and I’m 14 minutes off the lead. There was a bit of dust and I made a few mistakes but nothing too bad. Tomorrow is our longest stage.”
On Wednesday riders tackle a daunting second stage from Antofagasta to Copiapo where they will ride a timed section of 469 km.
The Rockstar Energy Husqvarna factory riders are making good use of the Atacama Rally to prepare for their bid for the 2017 Dakar Rally in January.
Provisional Results: Stage One Antofagasta-Calama SS1 231 km
1. Pablo Quintanilla (CHI), Husqvarna, 2 h 14.56 m 2. Toby Price (AUS), KTM, +1.13 m 3. Paolo Goncalves (PRT), Honda, +2.50 4. Kevin Benavides (ARG), Honda, +4.19 5. Ricky Brabic (USA), Honda, +5.38 8. Pela Renet (FRA), Husqvarna, +14.41