Japanese rally driver Hiroshi Masuoka has won the opening half of the Dakar Rally's first "marathon' stage, which covers 1,541 kilometers in the Northern Sahara desert in Morocco.

Masuoka, in a Mitsubishi, had a winning time of three hours, 13 minutes, 23 seconds for the bumpy 793-kilometer first half. Belgium's Gregoire de Mevius in a Nissan was second, 14 seconds back, with Japanese driver Kenjiro Shinozuka third, one minute, 21 seconds back.

In the motorcycle category, Chilean Carlo De Gavardo rode his KTM to the stage win in three hours, 22 minutes, three seconds. Isidre Esteve Pujol of Spain on a KTM was second, two minutes, 55 seconds back. Joan Roma of Spain, also aboard a KTM, was third, three minutes, 41 seconds behind De Gavardo.

The competitors must make a mandatory six-hour stop in Tan-Tan, Morocco, before starting the second half of the leg, a 739-kilometer trek through Southern Morocco and the Western Sahara that ends in Zouerat, Mauritania.