TEAM REPSOL MITSUBISHI RALLIART REGROUPS AT ATAR REST DAY AND PREPARES FOR DRAMATIC FINAL WEEK Team Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart will begin the second week of the 2007 Dakar Rally in a somewhat unusual position, attempting to win the event ...
TEAM REPSOL MITSUBISHI RALLIART REGROUPS AT ATAR REST DAY AND PREPARES FOR DRAMATIC FINAL WEEK
Team Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart will begin the second week of the 2007 Dakar Rally in a somewhat unusual position, attempting to win the event from behind their arch rivals. In recent years the Pont-de-Vaux-based team has led the world's most daunting off-road rally at the rest day mid-point and has won the event for the last six years.
But the 29th edition of the Dakar Rally has been one of the toughest in the Japanese manufacturer's 25-year history of competing in the world's premier cross-country event. Team drivers Stéphane Peterhansel, Luc Alphand and Hiroshi Masuoka currently hold third, fourth and fifth places in the overall classification, behind new rally leader Giniel de Villiers and team mate and former front-runner Carlos Sainz.
"We have left ourselves some work to do next week," said Peterhansel. "But we all know how unpredictable the Dakar Rally can be and this event will not be decided until the final stage next Sunday. Maybe the next few days will give us a chance to fight-back and gain some time. It has not been easy so far, but I know that we have a good track record in the dunes and there will be plenty of those in the next few days..."
Defending champion Alphand is hoping for a change of fortune in the final week. "I have been quite frustrated over the last few days. We have never had a good clean stage. There has always been something that cost us time. I know I am on the right pace, but I need a bit of better luck this week. The victory is still quite within the grasp."
"We have quite a lot of time to make up this week," said Masuoka. "It is still possible for me to win the rally, but the important thing is to work for the team to ensure that we have the victory. I have a good starting position on Sunday behind Carlos (Sainz), so we will see."
Mitsubishi's fourth driver Joan 'Nani' Roma rolled on the seventh stage into Atar and was forced to wait for the assistance truck. He eventually finished the stage over six hours late and slipped to 23rd position in the overall rankings. The engine sustained valve damage in the accident. Mitsubishi mechanics and team engineers changed the cylinder head in Atar on Saturday, after the Spaniard had reached the rest halt with the help of the race support truck.
This year's event is shorter than previous years -- due largely to an unforeseen route change in Mali that was announced before Christmas -- and that has placed a greater emphasis on speed and made the event more of a sprint race thus far. Mitsubishi knows that its team's strength lies in its ability to perform well in sand dunes, camel grass and really harsh African terrain that has, so far, been scarce on the 29th Dakar Rally.
But MMSP's Managing and Sporting Director Dominique Serieys is confident about the coming days: "Our rivals have started very well this year and have pushed on every stage. There has been no respite. We have suffered some minor set-backs and it was a bitter blow for 'Nani' Roma to lose so much time into Atar on Friday.
"But I said at the start that we needed to be in the top five at the rest day and not more than 20 minutes from the leaders. The next two days in the sand dunes in Mauritania will be critical. We will continue to push and put pressure on the two leaders. The stages between Atar and Tichit and Tichit and Néma are likely to be very tough and there can be swings on the leaderboard of many minutes each day quite easily."
Mitsubishi have already proved that the new MPR13 version of the Pajero/Montero Evolution has the pace and development to give the Japanese manufacturer a 12th Dakar triumph. Peterhansel was close to winning stages on two occasions last week, before clutch problems and a puncture intervened, while Mitsubishis have regularly been inside the top five on the stages and always in contention in the overall rankings.
Peterhansel and co-driver Jean-Paul Cottret head into the stage to Tichit trailing De Villiers by 24m 38s, with Alphand and co-driver Gilles Picard 33m 53s behind the South African. Clutch problems and several punctures cost Masuoka and co-driver Pascal Maimon precious time in the opening stages and they move into the second week of competition over 70 minutes behind De Villiers.
Friday's accident cost Roma and Lucas Cruz their chance of winning the Dakar for the first time with Mitsubishi, but the Spaniards -- who lie 6h 56m behind the leader - can still play a crucial tactical role in helping Team Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart confirm victory on the event for a seventh successive season at Lac Rose in Sénégal next Sunday.
"I have every confidence that the team can still win the Dakar Rally this year," said MMSP's Team President Isao Torii. "We are not in the same position as we were for the last two years, but there are some difficult stages to go and I am confident in our team's experience."
Rear differential problems cost Mitsubishi crews time into Atar
China's Lui Bin and Thailand's Pornsiriched reach Atar late on Friday night
Four of the Tibau Team-run Mitsubishis suffered rear differential problems on the stage between Zouerat and Atar and each of the problems were caused by the same large rock hidden in the sand.
China's Lui Bin, Thailand's Mana Pornsiriched, Brazil's Klever Kolberg and Russian Leonid Novitskiy all suffered rear transmission problems and had to wait for the assistance trucks before repairs were carried out.
"It was a hectic day and a long night," admitted Team Manager Jürgen Masal. "Everybody hit the same big stone and all seem to have had the same rear differential problem. For that reason they were all late. There is a lot of damage on all the cars and our mechanics have a very busy day to repair them and also complete the rest day service plan."
China's Lui Bin and French co-driver Serge Henninot arrived at the bivouac in 120th position on the stage. They entered the campsite at two minutes before midnight on Friday night, but maintained a place in the rally in 69th overall.
Thailand's Mana Pornsiriched and French co-driver Jean Brucy were also badly delayed and reached the camp site at 01.51 hrs on Saturday morning. They were classified 121st on the special, but were within their time limit and will restart from the rear of the field on Sunday, albeit in 84th position in the overall classification.
Brazilian Klever Kolberg held 54th position in the overall rankings at the start of the day's stage, but he too was badly delayed and reached the bivouac without completing the special stage. He was awaiting the organizers' decision on time penalties before he knew whether he would be able to continue on Sunday.
Frenchman Dominique Housieaux completed the stage as the first of the Tibau Team-run cars in 29th position in his Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero and now holds 22nd in the overall standings, while Russian Yaroslav Soloviev was classified 52nd overall and holds 50th.
Japan's Yoshio Ikemachi began the stage between Zouerat and Atar in 28th position, but suffered rear differential problems and was forced to wait for the assistance truck, which arrived at 03.00 hrs on Saturday morning to carry out repairs. The Japanese arrived in the Atar bivouac at around 11.45 hrs.
Russians Leonid Novitskiy and Alexey Berkut were also delayed: Novitskiy finished the stage in 61st position. Berkut rolled his Mitsubishi and, although he arrived at the Atar bivouac, technical officials withdrew his damaged L200 Triton from the event on safety grounds. "Unfortunately for us, Alexey appears to be out of the race," confirmed Masal. "It is annoying because the car was damaged in the accident and some of the tracking equipment is missing."
Tomorrow (Sunday) marks the first of three of the most difficult sections of this year's Dakar. A 35km liaison steers crews to the start of the longest stage of the entire rally -- a potentially-daunting 589km section across the Mauritanian wastelands, via Tidjikja, to finish a mere two kilometres from the Tichit oasis.
Service vehicles are not allowed into the Tichit bivouac on this first and only Marathon section of the 29th Dakar Rally for cars. Instead, assistance vehicles and support personnel will make an arduous two-day trip, via the Mauritanian capital of Nouakchott, to rejoin the rally in Néma on Tuesday afternoon.