A crowd of several thousand gathered Saturday in central Buenos Aires to cheer on participants at the start of the 2011 edition of the prestigious Dakar Rally, dpa reported.
The offroad race is to take place in Argentina and Chile for the third consecutive year, after security problems drove it out of its original loctaion in Africa.
A total of 407 drivers took part in the first stage, 377 kilometres between Buenos Aires and Victoria, in the Argentine province of Entre Rios. There was however no special in this stage, and timing of participants was to start Sunday with a 222-kilometres stretch between Victoria and Argentina's second-largest city, Cordoba.
Organisers were thrilled with crowd support, a key aspect to keep the Dakar Rally in South America in recent years.
"Contenders (surely) cannot remain untouched by this collective declaration of love for them and what they are undertaking," the rally said on its website.
The Dakar Rally, with more than 9,500 kilometres including 5,000 kilometres of specials, is to end January 15 also in the Argentine capital, where winners are to be celebrated a day later.
This edition, like its predecessors, will feature key stages in northern Chile's challenging Atacama Desert.
Spain's Carlos Sainz and France's Cyril Despres are to defend their 2010 titles in the car and motorbike categories, with Volkswagen seeking a third consecutive win in cars and KTM aiming to consolidate a domination on two wheels that stretches back to 2001.