Qatari Nasser Al-Attiyah defended his status as champion of the Dakar Rally on Monday, winning the first stage of the legendary race.

Driving a Toyota, Al-Attiyah overcame mechanical problems both at the start and shortly before the finish of the first stage, which covered a looping 454-kilometre stretch of dirt and dust from the Paraguayan capital Asuncion to Resistencia in Argentina.

Al-Attiyah set the pace, completing the timed section in 25 minutes and 41 seconds.

In the motorbike section, Australian Toby Price who took out the race in 2016 finished the opening stage in 17th, one minute and 25 seconds off the pace.

This is the ninth time the race is being staged in South America

A group of Spaniards - Xavi Pons in a Ford; Nani Roma in a Toyota; and Carlos Sainz in a Peugeot - finished second, third and fourth in the car division respectively. Al-Attiyah won the Dakar Rally last year and in 2011.

Tuesday's second stage will cross 803 kilometres through the Chaco region west of San Miguel de Tucuman, Argentina.

The 39th edition of the rally is taking place in Paraguay, Argentina and Bolivia in 12 stages covering almost 9,000 kilometres. The rally is scheduled to conclude January 14 in Buenos Aires.

Almost 400 vehicles, including motorcycles and quads competing in separate divisions, drove Monday from just outside Asuncion across the promenade along the Paraguay River to a symbolic start in front of the government palace.France's Xavier De Soultrait, of team Yamaha, won the first stage of the Dakar Rally in the motorcycle category with a time of 28:20 on the course in Paraguay.

Spain's Juan Pedrero Garcia, who races for Sherko, took second place, finishing just two seconds behind De Soultrait, while American Ricky Brabec came in third, 14 seconds behind the winner in the only stage held in Paraguay.

Spain's Joan Barreda, of team Honda, came in 7th, finishing 32 seconds behind the winner in the timed stage.

Australian Toby Price, of KTM and the defending champion, finished in 16th place, coming in one minute and 25 seconds behind the winner.

Thousands of people gathered along the route, cheering as the competitors flew by in the first-ever Dakar Rally to run through Paraguay.

The first stage runs from Asuncion, Paraguay's capital, to Resistencia, the capital of the northern Argentine province of Chaco.

This stage presents only minor challenges to the racers and covers 454 kilometres, of which 39 kilometres are timed.

The course gets tougher in the second stage, which starts Wednesday and will take the competitors to San Miguel de Tucuman along a route covering 803km of which 275km are timed, in Santiago del Estero province.

The fourth stage will take the racers into Bolivia, where they will have a rest day in La Paz on January 8.

On January 10, the racers will re-enter Argentina, crossing the finish line on January 14 in Buenos Aires.

2 Jan, 2017 3:18pm
3 minutes to read