Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports (MMSP) team drivers reflect on the opening sections of the 2004 TelefÃ³nica Dakar Rally at the half-way point in Bamako, Mali. StÃ©phane Peterhansel, Hiroshi Masuoka and Andrea Mayer currently hold first, second and...
Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports (MMSP) team drivers reflect on the opening sections of the 2004 Telefónica Dakar Rally at the half-way point in Bamako, Mali. Stéphane Peterhansel, Hiroshi Masuoka and Andrea Mayer currently hold first, second and sixth places in the overall standings.
INTERVIEW WITH STEPHANE PETERHANSEL
Q: Six stages to go. You have a one hour four minute lead. How do you approach the final stages?
SP: "The second week of the race will not be easy at all. There are four or five stages which are not too long, but they are likely to be very hard. Remember last year, it can all go wrong at any time and we must all concentrate. I think when we start after Bobo, the stage will be very short, but technical. That means, for sure, I will be under some pressure. Afterwards we go to Tidjikja again and this will be very hard. There is a lot of navigation, sand and rocks, so there will be a few long days yet".
Q: After the problems last year in Dakar, Italy and Tunisia, do you hear every noise from the car?
SP: "No. We concentrate hard on the road and I never hear any noises. I try and make a point of not listening for anything at this stage".
Q: Looking back at the last three stages between Tan-Tan, Atar, Tidjikja and Néma, is this the most difficult section of a Dakar you have done?
SP: "Perhaps. The stage between Tidjikja and Néma was very hard, but normally there is one hard stage and that is followed by an easier one or two stages. But this year it is much harder, because we had three difficult sections after each other. This is a problem for the factory teams, but an even bigger problem for the amateurs".
Q: Do you think this is a real strain for the assistance teams and the mechanics?
SP: "Yes for sure. This is a new generation of rally, because on the older events all the mechanics went to the bivouac by airplane. But the organizers changed the rules over the last three years and now it is very hard for all the mechanics, as well as the drivers".
Q: What do you think of the TSO's decision to cancel the two stages this weekend?
SP: "I remember my first Dakar 14 years ago. Four days were cancelled. Now we have lost just two days. In Africa, these days, there are always political problems, but this is a race and we must accept these decisions in our stride and adjust our plans accordingly".
Q: Other teams have had major problems. Is it now a case of Mitsubishi losing this rally rather than another team winning it?
SP: "Yes. Between Hiroshi and me there is only one hour difference and I am sure that he will push at the maximum over the next couple of days. I try to keep at the same pace, but it is possible that we could both have problems. It is never easy to know what the speed of your team-mate can be. If I start second on a stage I do not know what speed Hiroshi is driving at and I have to push a little just to make sure that he is not too far ahead. It is not easy. That is when mistakes or problems can happen".
INTERVIEW WITH HIROSHI MASUOKA
Q: Six stages to go from Tuesday. Are you pleased with your position behind Stéphane?
HM: "I think it will be very difficult to win. One hour is a long time behind Stéphane. I think we must keep second place for now".
Q: Has there been a team order to make you keep to second position at this stage?
HM: "No. Nothing at all".
Q: What about the stages this week between Bobo and Dakar?
HM: "I think two days will be very difficult. The first will be the one into Tidjikja on Thursday. Then it will be tricky on the stage between Tidjikja and Nouakchott. Only those two days. I think the rest will be okay".
Q: Do you like the traditional Black African stages through Mali and Burkina Faso?
HM: "No, not as much as the dunes. There are too many people on the tracks. There are animals, hidden dangers and sometimes we are traveling at high speeds. This is where concentration is so important".
Q: What did you think about the three long stages between Tan-Tan and Néma? Were they too difficult for the amateur teams?
HM: "Yes they were too difficult for the drivers at the back of the field. For me they were not too bad, but the Dakar organizers should also think about the other entrants and the mechanics and assistance teams".
Q: What did you think about the decision to cancel two stages this weekend?
HM: "I do not think it was a good decision. I wanted to continue all the way through Mopti and on to Bobo. Instead we have to drive a liaison section of 927 kilometers. That is much too long".
INTERVIEW WITH ANDREA MAYER
Q: It's difficult to compare with a Dakar on a bike, but has this been the most difficult week of a Dakar that you have known?
AM: "No, definitely not, because we now have two days of rest. The most difficult year was 1998. We did the same stage as Tidjikja to Néma, but in the opposite direction. There was no rest day, there were Marathon days and we were riding very late. Then there was a stage from Tidjikja to Atar. This was my hardest Dakar".
Q: What is it like to do the Dakar as a support driver?
AM: "It is a good feeling to be with the team. It is a pleasure to do the job as well as possible. Plus I get as much experience as possible and I can judge my level against the other top drivers. This is the first time that I have been in a competitive car. I know I need more experience, especially in the fast sections".
Q: You are still in sixth position, despite two problems with the suspension. What will you do to the car now before Tuesday?
AM: "The mechanics have welded the car really strongly. Now though I will try and drive a little more slowly and take more care over the stony ground and the large broken rocks".
Q: The TSO cancelled two stages. What do you feel about this?
AM: "If this is a decision for security, and this really is the reason, then we must accept it. Is it good for people to stay out in the dunes at night and to make such hard and long stages? I don't think so. My personal opinion is that the Dakar must be hard. Compare that to last year's Dakar, where we arrived each afternoon at around 2 pm; that was not a real Dakar. A real Dakar has to be the hardest race of the whole year. If you want to enjoy a rally then you can always go to Tunisia, Morocco or Dubai. The Dakar is there to test cars and people to the very limit".
Q: Other teams have suffered problems this year. Is it a case now of Mitsubishi throwing away their fourth successive win?
AM: "I think the team needs to be very careful now it is in front. We need to keep our concentration right to the last day. We must never think that we will win the race until we reach the finish line. Something can easily break or a driver can get lost".
Q: What do you expect from the last six days of the 2004 Dakar?
AM: "I think we will arrive at the same situation we had three days ago. We have a Marathon stage and then another tricky stage in the dunes. So we must take care not to make a mistake".
Q: How do you think that Colin McRae performed on his first Dakar?
AM: "I think he has performed much better than anyone expected. He was calm and the problems were not his fault. I'm sure that he will come back again".
Tomorrow (Monday) is the official rest day for surviving teams in the Dakar Rally. As VIPs, friends and members of the media arrive from Europe to soak up the Dakar atmosphere, the rest day marks time for mechanics to repair cars and for competitors to take additional and much-needed rest before the event resumes on Tuesday.