REPSOL DRIVERS AND RIDERS FACE THE DOUBLE OPENING LEG IN MOROCCO WITH CAUTION
Marc Coma fastest in motorbikes, while team mate Jordi Viladoms is fifth. Masuoka, Masuoka, Peterhansel and Roma in fourth, fifth and sixth places in the car class. Freak flooding and stage damage cause havoc with Morocco Rally route
Leg 1: Erfoud Erfoud (revised)
Liaison 24 km, Special 137 km, Liaison 45 km,
Special 137 km, Liaison 68 km.
Total 411 km
The opening leg of the Orpi Rally of Morocco, round three of the 2006 FIA Cross-Country Rally World Cup, was staged today around the town of Erfoud in eastern Morocco. The day's special had been planned as a 266 kms loop around Erfoud, using a brand new section and several pistes last used in 2003. The plan had been to use the dune crossings at Merzouga and the famous erg Chebbi used by both Mitsubishi and Volkswagen in crucial mid-season test sessions. But rainfall had been so torrential in recent days that a nearby hotel had been washed away and what was normally a desert area had been reduced to large pools of flood water.
The official FIA course opening car was joined by a secondary team to complete the final recce, deciding to run two shorter 137 km loop stages instead of the single special. This special used opening terrain familiar to competitors from previous test sessions in the region and a completely new final stretch.
Japan's Hiroshi Masuoka and French co-driver Pascal Maimon led the Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart challenge after the opening stage by posting the fourth fastest time, behind South Africa's Giniel de Villiers, Frenchman Jean-Louis Schlesser and Spaniard Carlos Sainz. The repsol drivers were markedly quicker on the second loop, with Stephane Peterhansel and co-driver Jean-Paul Cottret leading the way with the third fastest time in their Mitsubishi Montero Evolution, behind stage winner Sainz and De Villiers. The twice Dakar winners will start leg two a mere 4m 18s behind the leader. Peterhansel had been fifth fastest in the opening stage. Nani Roma was seventh and sixth, thus being sixth in the overall standings.
In the motobike class, victory for Marc Coma in both loops -- and overall lead -, while his team mate Jordi Viladoms was sixth fastest in the first and fifth in the second special, thus being fifth in the overall standings. Today's leg has been a mere formality for both Repsol riders.
Driver's and rider's comments
Stephane Peterhansel: "At the start of the first loop I lost the road and maybe 20 seconds, but it was a very fast track. I drove a safe special. Only about 10 kms were technical, but the objective on the second loop was to make sure that we did not lose any more time to our rivals."
Hiroshi Masuoka: "The last 40 km of this stage were flat out and that suited our rivals perhaps. My plan today was to drive safely and stay with the leaders. I thought that my rear suspension may have been a little soft, so this is something we will look at for the second day."
Nani Roma: "I did not have a good feeling this morning and I was not happy with my driving. Then I noticed that a shock absorber was broken. It was not my day today, but we've just started."
Marc Coma: "Today has been a first contact with this raid and the truth is that it's been more exciting than expected. Due to the rainfall, the terrain was impassable and they had to change the route. We took the start with the new bike, the same used by my team mate Jordi Viladoms in Sardinia and the one we are planning to use at the next Dakar. So far everything has worked out perfectly well."
Jordi Viladoms: "We have covered the same route twice today -- a rather short special -- so the first passage helped me to survey the terrain, so that I was able to be much faster in the second. I finished fifth and I think that it is a good result to start this raid."
Tomorrow, Thursday should have been the second northerly stage between Erfoud and Ain Benimathar, but freak heavy rains destroyed sections of the original special and left many low-lying areas underwater. Such were the severity of the floods that the FIA course opening car, crewed by multiple former FIA World Champion Pierre Lartigue and Fred Gallagher, was stuck three times during the recce mission, with Gallagher trapped up to his waist in thick mud on one occasion. An amended special again split into two sections - has been arranged at the last minute to take teams to Ain Benimathar, one of only two traditional overnight bivouacs on this year's Rally of Morocco. Motorbike riders and co-drivers will be faced with many pages of road book changes to decipher before the second leg starts on Thursday morning.
<pre> Standings Cars
PE1 Rissani - Borj Yerdi: 137 Km. 1. De Villiers Volkswagen 1h07'39" 2. Schlesser Buggy 1h07'42" 3. Sainz Volkswagen 1h08'16" 4. Masuoka Mitsubishi 1h09'17" 5. Peterhansel Mitsubishi 1h10'45" 7. Roma Mitsubishi 1h11'29"
PE2 Rissani - Borj Yerdi: 137 Km. 1. Sainz Volkswagen 1h04'57" 2. De Villiers Volkswagen 1h05'02" 3. Peterhansel Mitsubishi 1h06'14" 4. Schlesser Buggy 1h06'49" 5. Masuoka Mitsubishi 1h07'22" 6. Roma Mitsubishi 1h08'04"
Overall 1. De Villiers Volkswagen 2h12'41" 2. Sainz Volkswagen + 00'32" 3. Schlesser Buggy + 01'50" 4. Masuoka Mitsubishi + 03'58" 5. Peterhansel Mitsubishi + 04'18" 6. Roma Mitsubishi + 06'52"
PE1 Rissani - Borj Yerdi: 137 Km. 1. M.Coma KTM 1h14'42"0 2. D.Casteu KTM 1h18'04"0 3. C.Despres KTM 1h20'45" 4. C.Blais KTM 1h21'04"0 5. A.Ullevalseter KTM 1h22'53" 6. J.Viladoms KTM 1h23'16"
PE2 Rissani - Borj Yerdi: 137 Km. 1. M.Coma KTM 1h12'26"0 2. D.Casteu KTM 1h12'59"0 3. C.Despres KTM 1h14'16"0 4. C.Blais KTM 1h15'54"0 5. J.Viladoms KTM 1h16'39"0
Overall 1. M.Coma KTM 2h27'08" 2. D.Casteu KTM + 03'55" 3. C.Despres KTM + 07'53" 4. C.Blais KTM + 09'50" 5. J.Viladoms KTM + 12'47"