The hardscrabble landscapes traversed by competitors in the Dakar Rally, the world’s premier off-road race, blur by over two weeks. Scores of trucks, cars, four-wheel ATVs and motorcycles set off every morning on a planned route through the South American chaparral, but with little sense of what the trail may bring.

Rockslides, washouts, roaming livestock and oxygen-sapping altitude have imparted a new, dangerous bit of romance to the rally since its relocation from Africa to South America in 2009.With deep rally racing histories in their own right, the countries that have been included in the race – Argentina, Peru, Chile and a new addition for the 2014 event, Bolivia – have embraced the annual off-road circus in their midst with a fervour that has even surprised race organisers.

The rally kicked off on 5 January in the Argentine city of Rosario – the ancestral home of football deity Lionel Messi – located 300km (200 miles) northwest of Buenos Aires.

The first stage covered 629km between Rosario and the provincial capital city of San Luis. On 6 January, competitors navigated the scrub and dunes between San Luis and San Rafael, Mendoza. Though it is early going (the race terminates in Valparaiso, Chile, on 18 January), five Mini X-Raid cars were ensconced in the top 10 after the opening stage. Above, Mini X-Raid drivers Orlando Terranova and Paulo Fiuza make a big statement between Rosario and San Luis.

Follow daily developments from the Dakar with’s Ollie Marriage, who is embedded with the Mini X-Raid team for the long haul.