Defending champion Carlos Sainz kicked off his Dakar Rally title defense in perfect fashion on Sunday after winning the opening timed stage of the Argentine and Chilean-based event.
The Volkswagen driver, who scored his first Dakar win last year, finished the 222-km special 1:31 minutes ahead of Dakar legend Stephane Peterhansel, in his X-Raid BMW.
Sainz dominated the stage from Victoria to Cordoba, setting the quickest time in all the control points before crossing the finish line with a time two hours and 18 minutes.
"For about 20km, we had a lot of rain," said Sainz. "At times, we just could not see anything. Moreover, I had issues with the wipers that had stopped working. I am really happy the day is over. It was a bit like the Rally of Great Britain. Apart from now, the car went fine."
Volkswagen teammate Nasser Al-Attiyah was third quickest in the gravel stage – which was hit by rain – with American Mark Miller fourth in the third Touareg from the German car maker. Former Dakar winner Giniel de Villiers made it four VWs in the top five, the South African crossing the finish line behind Miller.
"Today we experienced a superb performance of our drivers and co-drivers," said VW motorsport boss Kris Nissen. "The cars are perfectly prepared.
"I'm happy to see all of our team members working with absolute concentration at the start of the rally and not allowing themselves to get distracted by the huge crowd nor by the pressure caused by the expectations of the journalists.
"The conditions on the first leg were very difficult due to the large amount of water on the track. It's hard to judge who was most heavily affected by this. With four cars among the top five Volkswagen experienced a tremendous start. Obviously, we're going to continue our work on Monday and on the following legs highly motivated in order to master the upcoming tasks."
Frenchman Guerlain Chicherit, fifth last year, already saw his chances of a strong result disappear after losing nearly an hour due a mechanical problem with his Mini.
"It's hard. It's very hard," he said. "After 3km we already had an alarm due to bad cooling. We managed up to 30km before the end, then the brake discs gave in, splintered into the rim and blocked everything. I tried to unblock and go on like that but it was impossible. It's hard. One year of work to get to this...it sure was a bad start. There is a lot of expectations on the car. A bad start indeed.
"Trouble is that tomorrow we will pay for today's problems because it will be a long stretch and it will be very hard to pass other cars."
NASCAR racer Robby Gordon lost 11 minutes as he struggled with his two-wheel-drive Hummer in the tricky conditions, and finished eighth.