Leonid Novitskiy won the opening stage of the 2012 Dakar Rally, which also saw a fatality in the motorcycle section and early trouble for last year's winner Nasser Al-Attiyah.
The relatively short 57-kilometer Mar del Plata to Santa Rosa stage was marred by the death of bike competitor Jorge Boero, who suffered a fall at the 55km point and went into cardiac arrest. Medical crews attended within five minutes, but were unable to save the Argentinian's life.
2011 car winner Al-Attiyah, now driving for Robby Gordon's Hummer team following Volkswagen's departure, lost nine minutes on the stage when his engine lost oil pressure. Gordon stopped and towed his teammate to the finish.
"We will see, but this does not look good," admitted Al-Attiyah. "And, whatever happens, this is not a good way to start the Dakar."
With their likely main rivals in trouble, X-Raid's Minis filled the top three at the end of the stage, with Novitskiy five seconds ahead of Krzysztof Holowczyc and nine in front of Stephane Peterhansel.
"Today's special was very short, so we put the pedal on the metal, especially in the sandy sector," said Novitskiy. "We only found another car on the course, but I was able to overtake it without any problems. In short: a good result for a perfect day."
Giniel de Villiers' Toyota and Gordon complete the early top five.
Leading positions after stage one:
Pos Driver Car Time/Gap
1. Leonid Novitskiy Mini 32m12s
2. Krzysztof Holowczyc Mini + 5s
3. Stephane Peterhansel Mini + 9s
4. Giniel de Villiers Toyota + 15s
5. Robby Gordon Hummer + 49s
6. Carlos Sousa Great Wall + 52s
7. Christian Lavieille Dessoude + 1m00s
8. Bernhard van Brinke Mitsubishi + 1m20s
9. Orlando Terranova Toyota + 1m56s
10. Ricardo Leal dos Santos Mini + 2m13s