Former champion Carlos Sainz of Spain rebounded from missing last year's Dakar Rally by winning the first stage of this year's race around Pisco in Peru.
Drivers had to rally only 13km after driving down the Pacific coast from the official start in Lima.
Sainz, the 2010 champion who's trying out new buggys with teammate and 2011 winner Nasser Al-Attiyah, won his 25th Dakar stage.
Lucio Alvarez of Argentina was 24 seconds behind in second overall, and 30 seconds down were Guerlain Chicherit of France and Al-Attiyah, the Qatari who won the skeet shooting bronze medal in the London Olympics.
Defending champion Stephane Peterhansel of France was eighth in his Mini, 1:42 off the pace.
Robby Gordon of the US, a three times a top-10 finisher, found his Hummer stuck after only four kilometres for more than 10 minutes, and ended up nearly 32 minutes behind on general classification.
The bike category was won by Francisco Lopez of Chile, who also won last year's opening stage in Argentina. Frans Verhoeven of the Netherlands was second and Pablo Quintanilla of Chile third. Defending champion Cyril Despres of France was fifth, only 65 seconds behind.
A total of 449 vehicles started the Dakar Rally, six more than last year. More than three-quarters of them were cars and motorbikes, and the rest trucks and quad bikes.
They and their caravan of support vehicles drove 250km from Lima to Pisco for the first stage, a brief taste of the dunes they will take much more seriously from Sunday onwards.
The race ends on January 19 in Santiago, Chile.