Mitsubishi & Peterhansel Win The Dakar
Masuoka second in the Pajero / Montero Evolution
Fourth consecutive victory for Mitsubishi, ninth overall win
Three cars in the top five
Mitsubishi Motors, Stéphane Peterhansel and Jean-Paul Cottret won the awesome Telefónica Dakar Rally today and in doing so have clinched a record-breaking fourth consecutive win for the Japanese manufacturer and its ninth overall victory since first entering the event in 1983.
Peterhansel also becomes only the second person in history, after Hubert Auriol, to win the event on both two and four wheels, the Frenchman having also won the rally six times on a motorbike.
"On the liaison section this morning I couldn't help but think about last year", said a delighted Peterhansel, who lost a potential victory in the penultimate stage of the 2003 event. "It has been a long time to wait one year for this victory. There were many times when it was easy to make a mistake. I spoke with Jean-Paul when we crossed the finish line of the special today and thanked him for a great job. I am happy for him. It's his first Dakar win".
"For the first win with the bike I had to wait four years. For the first win with the car it took me six", added Peterhansel, who now features in the record books alongside former Mitsubishi driver Hubert Auriol as one of only two winners in two different categories. "It is a completely different feeling. Hiroshi drove a perfect race as well, but it was my turn this time!"
Mitsubishi Pajero / Montero Evolution team-mates Hiroshi Masuoka and Gilles Picard claimed an emphatic one-two for Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports, making it the sixth year Mitsubishi Motors has filled at least the top two winning positions on the Dakar Rally (1992, 1997, 1998, 2002, 2003 and 2004). Masuoka, the winner in 2002 and 2003, finished 49 minutes and 24 seconds adrift of his team-mate.
"I am very pleased for Stéphane and for Mitsubishi", said Masuoka. "I drove a good race. It was not easy. Mauritania was difficult. Next year I will push for my third win".
Co-driver Gilles Picard was delighted with his second position. "I am happy to be here", he said. "It has been a great team performance. I just wish sometimes that the media would not just highlight the role of the co-driver when we make a small mistake. I know that we are here to be in the shadow of the driver, but it is never easy to finish the Dakar".
Andrea Mayer and double Dakar Rally-winning co-driver Andreas Schulz have fulfilled their support role superbly, the German pair arriving in Dakar this afternoon in a fine fifth position in the team's official Pajero / Montero.
"It is a different feeling to finish this race as a member of an official team", said Mayer. "On a bike you are alone. When I crossed the finish line today I knew it had been a great team effort. Andreas has been fantastic. I know he is used to challenging for the win, but he has been crucial to my result. I know I still have things to learn, but Andy, the mechanics and all the team have supported me to Dakar and I thank them with this fifth place".
The final 106 kilometers lay in wait for the crews today, the day kicking off with a 60 road liaison to the start of the last 27 kilometer stage which started at Dakar's lake and finished on the beach. While many will have cruised to the finish, listening out for the slightest mechanical noises that could have caused a last-minute panic, others still had positions to defend and honors to uphold.
The final liaison section then took the contenders, all of whom must be classified as victors for reaching Dakar, to the podium and prize-giving at the Méridien Hotel.
Commenting on the team's victorious result, MMSP's Head of Motorsport Sven Quandt said: "It is a great victory and the whole team worked very hard for it. I am happy that we made it one, two and five. I think it was fair for Stéphane to win this time. He deserves to be very happy and proud of himself today. Andrea had a very good result, perhaps better than we expected. She drove in a very professional manner. It was one of the toughest Dakars that I have seen, which is good for Mitsubishi because we have shown that we can win the hardest of all the rallies".
"My feeling is strange", added MMSP's Team Director Dominique Serieys. "Everybody in the team has done a good job. We could not win this rally if the tip of the iceberg was not functioning, and the mechanics and drivers of the trucks can be proud of themselves. It may have looked easy from the outside, but we had our fair share of problems to overcome".
"This is a great win for Mitsubishi, but it is also a human win - a great day for Stéphane", added Serieys. "It was the same when Hiroshi lost in 2001 and he won the following year. It has been a long 12 months for Stéphane. I feel really emotional as well for Jean-Paul and Andrea. She drove a great rally. She was always smiling and never complaining".
Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports' performance on this year's Telefónica Dakar Rally has been virtually text book, but for the retirement of former World Rally Champion "Miki" Biasion at the end of the sixth leg. Stéphane Peterhansel and Jean-Paul Cottret may have only won two of the competitive stages, but the French pair was never outside the top two in the leaderboard during the entire event, demonstrating that consistency and reliability is the key to success.
They claimed the overall lead in the third leg, only briefly relinquishing it to team-mates Masuoka and Picard during the sixth and seventh. As a consequence, they have topped the leaderboard constantly since January 8, and powered into Dakar this afternoon with a 49 minute and 24 second advantage.
Defending double Dakar Rally winner Hiroshi Masuoka and co-driver Gilles Picard have been equally impressive in the second Mitsubishi Pajero / Montero Evolution. They set four fastest times in the 14 competitive stages and had moved into second position by the fifth leg.
Having briefly taken over leadership from Peterhansel for two days, the Japanese/French pair then slipped to third in the eighth leg, but recovered second and maintained Mitsubishi's one-two formation from January 9. They ultimately finished more than two hours ahead of third-placed Jean-Louis Schlesser in the Schlesser Buggy.
Andrea Mayer and co-driver Andreas Schulz, who navigated Jutta Kleinschmidt to victory with Mitsubishi in 2001 and Hiroshi Masuoka to his maiden win in 2002, have provided outstanding support to their Pajero / Montero Evolution team-mates.
The young German woman, who finished as the leading female driver in this year's event, eased herself into the pace in her first Dakar outing as part of the factory line-up.
She ultimately climbed from 15th overall to sixth by leg seven and then moved into fifth position by the fourteenth day. She and Schulz, driving a Pajero / Montero, maintained fifth to the finish ramp, despite their first priority being to support Peterhansel and Masuoka.
AL-ATTIYAH CLAIMS 10th & LEAD MITSUBISHI RALLIART DRIVER
Six customer Pajero / Monteros reach the finish in Dakar
Reigning FIA Middle East Rally Champion and Dakar rookie Nasser-Saleh Al-Attiyah finished the event in a fine 10th position in his Mitsubishi Pajero / Montero.
Partnered by Belgian Marc Bartholome, the Qatari lost over five hours after an accident in Mauritania, but clawed his way back into the top 10 during the last two days of the event. He finished today's stage in third position, just 43 seconds adrift of stage winner and former World Rally Champion Colin McRae.
"I feel great", said Al-Attiyah. "It was a very nice event and I am here in Dakar. I feel like I have won this rally! I tried to push a little today and finished third on the stage. I will be back again next year".
Brazilians Klever Kolberg and Roldan Lourival maintained their 11th position to the finish in Dakar this afternoon and were fourth in the diesel class.
"It's a great feeling to be here in Dakar", said Kolberg, who lost time in the latter sections of the rally with clutch problems and a faulty jack.
Dominique Housieaux and Loïc Fagot had been running as high as eighth overall before being struck by transmission problems, but the French pair nevertheless reached the finish in 13th position in their Pajero / Montero.
"It was a superb Dakar for me", said Housieaux. "It felt fantastic to race along the beach today and to cross that finish line. I had some problems, but the team has worked very hard and I owe this result to my mechanics, my co-driver and my sponsors".
Poland's Lukasz Komornicki and Rafal Marton overcame several time-consuming delays to record 14th position in the Team Orlen Mitsubishi Pajero / Montero.
"We are happy to be here", said Komornicki. "We lost about 10 hours early in the race, but after Burkina Faso we decided to attack. This was our third Dakar, but we are not finished yet; we will be back again in 2005. I think there would only have been about 15 cars at the finish if the organizers had not canceled two stages".
Thailand's Pornsawan Siriwattanakun and French co-driver Phillipe Bocandé were classified 15th in the sole Mitsubishi L200 Strada and fifth overall in the diesel category.
"I feel so happy to be here", said Pornsawan. "It was a difficult race. There were some sections where I struggled in the soft sand, but we made it!"
Team Mitsubishi Ralliart China's Luo Ding finished the Dakar for the first time at his second attempt, despite last minute gearbox problems and a very late arrival into Dakar last night. He was classified 47th with French co-driver Serge Henninot.