Portugal's Carlos Sousa, driving a Haval, claimed the opening stage of the 36th Dakar Rally yesterday, while double defending champion Stephane Peterhansel lost time after suffering a puncture.
Sousa finished the 180km special from Rosario in Argentina to San Luis in 2h 20m 36s with Argentina's Orlando Terranova, in a Mini, 11 seconds behind and fellow Mini driver, Qatar's 2011 champion Nasser Al-Attiyah, in third, 47 seconds back.
Sousa said he "suffered like a dog" after his Chinese-made Haval over-heated, sending dirty air into the driver's compartment.
"Our car doesn't have air conditioning and all the air inlets got clogged. After 50km, the turbo air outlet broke down and sent all the air directly towards me," he said.
"It must have got hotter than 70C and we had trouble breathing.
"The reason I drove so fast was that I wanted to get out of that inferno, but I really thought we wouldn't make it. We suffered like dogs to earn it."
France's Peterhansel, in a third Mini, and seeking a 12th overall title (after six on motorcycles and five in cars), suffered a puncture and was down in sixth place, 4m 21s behind Sousa.
"At 30km before the finish we had a flat tyre. Apart from the flat, I had good feelings with the car and the special.
"True, it wasn't a great start, since losing three minutes in such a short special is nothing to write home about, but it's a start nonetheless," said Peterhansel.
Honda's Joan Barreda clocked a time of 2h 25m 31s to take the motorcycle stage with Spanish compatriot Marc Coma, on a KTM, 37s behind.