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VILLAS CARLOS PAZ, Argentina – Robby Gordon got off to a fast start in the 37th Dakar Rally Sunday bringing his HST Gordini home in second place just 42 seconds behind overall leader Orlando Terranova of Argentina. Qatar’s Nasser Al-Attiyah’s had finished ahead of Terranova and Gordon, but was assessed a unspecified two-minute penalty by race officials late Sunday afternoon.

Gordon’s time of 1 hour 13 minutes and 54 seconds over the 170-kilometer special through rolling terrain of the Argentinian countryside bettered the times of 135 of the 137 starters. In what is considered the most difficult and dangerous race on earth, several early race favorites experienced trouble, most notably defending champion Nani Roma of Spain whose race barely started before issues surfaced putting him at a massive deficit. His troubles left him more than six hours behind, essentially ending his opportunity to repeat as Dakar Rally champion.

If anyone can sympathize with Roma it is Gordon, who has in recent years struggled with mechanical issues at the start of the Rally. In 2014 Gordon finished 133rd in stage 1. Today he was 130 spots better.

Gordon started ninth in Sunday’s first stage and will roll off the line second in Monday’s second stage from Villa Carlos Paz to San Juan, the longest stage of the Rally featuring a 518-kilometer special with hard terrain to start, dusty sections in the middle of the run and soft sand toward the finish.

Terranova, driving a Mini, started sixth and like Gordon moved through traffic quickly to post solid finishes. South Africa’s Giniel De Villiers came home third in his Toyota, followed by Poland’s Krzysztof Holowczyc in a Mini.

“It’s exactly where we wanted to be,” said Gordon, who along with navigator Johnny Campbell were forced to stop once losing about one minute to secure a loose door. “For us the first stage was good, very conservative. We easily had a minute in our hands there but just didn’t push it. I think we’re going to be good. Johnny did a great job and we didn’t push anything. I feel good about where we’re at and where we’re headed and it’s going to be a good Rally this year. We’ve worked very hard over the last year. Last year was an embarrassment and this year we’re going to be on it from day 1.”

Monday’s marathon stage to San Juan, the capital city of the Argentinian province with the same name, introduces the teams to the deserts of Argentina, one of the driest regions on earth.

Follow the Dakar Rally through live timing and scoring as well as live updates at planetrobby.com. NBCSN will provide daily highlights beginning Jan. 5 from 4:30 to 5 p.m. ET.

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