Stage one of the Atacama Rally saw the field of riders head out into the Atacama Desert under clear blue skies. The 266.3km timed special looped around the area north of the Chilean mining town of Copiapó – the base for this year’s event.

Following his excellent performance on Monday’s short Prologue stage where he posted the fastest time, Toby Price chose to set off as the 15th rider away on stage one. With the rally marking the first return to international competition for several months, Price decided to ride as smoothly as possible to reacquaint himself with both the bike and the tricky navigation the rally presents. A strong ride brought the 2016 Dakar Rally champion to the finish in third place.

Reigning Dakar Rally champion Matthias Walkner also rode a solid day, posting the fourth fastest time, less than a minute down on team-mate Price. Opting for strategy on the previous day’s Prologue, Walkner was the 32nd rider off the line on stage one. Making a number of passes the Austrian posted the fourth best time for the day.

Sam Sunderland also chose not to push on the Prologue stage and started today’s timed special 24th. A small error in the first 100km of the stage proved costly for the Brit however, resulting in some minutes lost to the leading riders. Despite the set-back, Sunderland is happy with both his riding and his KTM 450 RALLY and is aiming to improve his overall position over the next four stages of the event.

Sam Sunderland: “It was a frustrating day for me today, I felt good and I know my pace was on par with the top guys. I just made a couple of errors that cost me a lot of time. The road book wasn’t that clear and especially early on, despite following it accurately I couldn’t get the waypoint to open. It seems it’s often the case here in Chile that navigation can be a little hit and miss. Despite losing time I am feeling really strong and the bike is performing well in the sand. Four more days to go so I’ll try my best to make up some time on the front runners.”

The stage two loop of the 2018 Atacama Rally will take riders south through Vallenar before returning to Copiapó, covering a total of 440.88km, 375.91 of which is timed special.

Provisional Results – Stage 1 Atacama Rally 2018

1. Kevin Benavides (ARG), Honda, 2:52:23 2. Pablo Quintanilla (CHL), Husqvarna, 2:52:27 +4 secs 3. Toby Price (AUS), KTM, 2:58:38 +6.15 4. Matthias Walkner (AUT), KTM, 2:59:21 +6:58 5. Franco Caimi (ARG), Yamaha, 3:02:30 +10:07 Other KTM 11. Sam Sunderland, (GBR), KTM, 3:12:23 +20:00

Provisional Standings – Atacama Rally 2018 after 1 of 5 stages

1. Pablo Quintanilla (CHL), Husqvarna, 2:53:55 2. Kevin Benavides (ARG), Honda, 2:55:35 +1:40 3. Toby Price (AUS), KTM, 2:59:54 +5:59 4. Matthias Walkner (AUT), KTM, 3:03:03 +9:53 5. Franco Caimi (ARG), Yamaha, 3:06:17 +12:22 Other KTM 12. Sam Sunderland, (GBR), KTM, 3:14:26 +20:31