ROSARIO, Argentina – South African Leeroy Poulter and his SA-built Toyota Hilux had a fair start to the 2014 Dakar Rally when he and co-driver Rob Howie finished ninth on Sunday.This is Poulter’s first Dakar, Howie’s third.The pair started 23rd on the road on the first of the rally’s 13 stages, this one from Rosario to San Luis in Argentina. They were fastest to the first control point of the 180km special, sandwiched by liaison sections of 405 and 224km, but lost time in the dust behind slower cars.STEERING PROBLEMSTeam mates and 2009 Dakar Rally winners Giniel de Villiers and Dirk von Zitzewitz also successfully negotiated the opening stage, one which featured a tight and technical racing section not unlike a South African cross-country event, and finished 27th in the provisional results in the #302 Hilux after starting third. They had power-steering problems because of a leaking fitting on the hydraulic jack which uses the same lubrication system and lost a lot of time through stopping three times to top up the fluid.They eventually drove the last 50km without steering assistance when they ran out of fluid...The stage was won by Carlos Sousa and Miguel Ramalho of Portugal in a Haval in a time of 2hr20min36 from Orlando Terranova of Argentina and Paulo Filiza of Portugal (Mini) +11sec and Nasser al-Attiyah of Qatar and Lucas Cruz of Spain (Mini) +47sec. Poulter/Howie were +5min57 and Villiers and German co-driver Dirk von Zitzewitz were +15m57.Poulter said later: “I was nervous at the beginning but the roads were the kind I am used to and I was happy with our pace. We didn’t actually know we had led at one stage but we suspected we might be doing quite well when we noticed we were being shadowed by a helicopter.“The dust was very thick and we were unable to pass some of the slower cars so we lost our early advantage. We had no problems with the car and are happy to have finished the day in the top 10.”'IMPRESSED BY ENGINE'Giniel de Villiers reported: “It was the worst-possible stage to experience power-steering problems, very tight and technical, and it was almost impossible to drive for the last 50km. It was not the start we were hoping for, but there is still a long way to go.“We will concentrate on the days ahead, one at a time. The car is very good and I’m impressed by the new engine.”Monday’s (Jan 6) 799km Stage 2 from San Luis to San Rafael will start at 5.50am Argentina time (10.50am in SA) and consists of a 304km liaison followed by a 43km racing section and then 62km of liaison to the overnight bivouac where the first car is due at 3.50pm (8.50pm SA time). .It will be the fastest special of the rally, at least for the first part, and will also see the drivers face the first dunes. In the last 100km of the racing section the grey dunes of Nihuil will provide a stern test of competitors’ technical skills.Bookmark Wheels24's special Dakar Rally section to keep up with event news and results.