Masuoka triumphs & claims record-breaking eighth Dakar victory for Mitsubishi.
Dominant one-two-three for Mitsubishi Motors; Third consecutive victory for the Japanese manufacturer; Fifth one-two-three for Mitsubishi Motors; Mitsubishi drivers claim top four positions.
The Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution / Montero Evolution crew of Hiroshi Masuoka and Andreas Schultz have won the 2003 Telef?nica Dakar Rally which finished today in Sharm El Sheikh on the east coast of Egypt. The Japanese/German pairing claimed an incredible 1 hour, 52 minute and 12 second winning margin after 19 days and 5,216 kilometres of competition in an 8,552 kilometre route that has taken the crews from Marseilles in France, down to Spain, Tunisia, across Libya and into Egypt. Masuoka's win represents Mitsubishi's eighth Dakar Rally victory, cementing its status as the most successful manufacturer in the 25 year history of the event. This is also Masuoka's second consecutive win and he is also the first Mitsubishi driver to triumph in the event twice. Co-driver Schultz also claims a second win in this legendary event, the German taking honours with former Mitsubishi driver Jutta Kleinschmidt back in 2001.
After the opening one kilometre stage in Marseilles on New Year's Day - for which the times do not count in the overall classification - Mitsubishi Motors drivers led from start to finish, underlining the Japanese manufacturer's outright superiority in the Dakar Rally and the world of off-road competition. St?phane Peterhansel reigned supreme for 13 of the remaining 16 legs, while team-mate Hiroshi Masuoka led the crews for the other three. Mitsubishi Motors' drivers also held the top five overall positions for four legs (12, 13, 14 and 15).
"I am so very happy to win this 25th Dakar Rally", said a delighted Masuoka. "This year was a great race; it was fast and there were some good stages in Tunisia and Libya. It was hard though. Every day we were doing 160/180 km/h and it was exciting to race against St?phane, but in the second half we were more careful and reduced our speed to save the car. I was waiting in case he made a mistake.
"I feel sad for St?phane because he had a good race. One small mistake was expensive. It was important for Mitsubishi to win and I hope that this continues. I look forward to competing with St?phane again in the future.
"The car is fantastic. It was developed last year and finished at the end of August. Mitsubishi has worked very hard on the suspension settings. We tested the car for two weeks in Morocco and it showed potential from the start".
Adding to this comments, co-driver Andreas Schultz said: "For me it was maybe an easier victory this time. I have now won twice with Mitsubishi as well. Maybe in 2004, if we can develop the car still further, we can win again", said the German.
The newly-developed Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution / Montero Evolution conforms to the Super Production Class inaugurated in 2002 and has been developed using the vast experience Mitsubishi has gained since its first entry into the Paris-Dakar Rally back in 1983 and the numerous rounds of the FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies it has contested. The car made its debut competitive outing in last November's UAE Desert Challenge and took a convincing 42 minute victory in the hands of St?phane Peterhansel. The Pajero Evolution / Montero Evolution has once again been in a league of it is own in this year's Dakar and victory represents its second win from second start. This is also the fifth year Mitsubishi Motors has filled at least the top three winning positions on the Dakar (1992, 1997, 1998, 2002 and 2003).
In a display of total domination, Mitsubishi drivers also claimed 11 of the 16 official stage victories and took a clean sweep of the top four positions on the Egyptian shores this morning. The all-French crew of Jean-Pierre Fontenay and Gilles Picard claimed second in their classic Pajero / Montero, while team-mates St?phane Peterhansel and Jean-Paul Cottret dropped from the number one slot to third overall after heart-wrenching problems in the penultimate leg. Portugal's Carlos Sousa and Henri Magne finished a fine fourth overall in their Mitsubishi L200 Strakar. Former and double World Rally Champion "Miki" Biasion, co-driven by Tiziano Siviero, also suffered agony and ecstasy in the penultimate leg, dropping them from third overall to 15th.
Hiroshi Masuoka and Andreas Schultz have been on fine form for the entire 2003 Dakar Rally and although they benefited from Peterhansel's problems in the penultimate leg, the pairing matched the Frenchman's pace from the outset, demonstrating the prowess of the Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution / Montero Evolution. Before Peterhansel slipped to third, the team-mates were split by less than 26 minutes with nearly two hours in hand to third position, all the more impressive as they had eased the pace to conserve their cars. Masuoka, who claims Mitsubishi's eighth outright victory in the Dakar Rally, had a faultless and mechanically trouble-free run for the entire 19 days, his only woes a succession of five punctures over the spectacular but treacherous volcanic terrain between Sabha and Zilla, in the central Libyan Sahara (Leg 9). In total, Masuoka notched up four stage victories from the qualifying 16 stages and was never placed lower than third overall in the entire rally.
Former Dakar winner Jean-Pierre Fontenay, co-driven by fellow Frenchman Gilles Picard, finished this epic adventure in second position in a modified version of the 2002 Dakar Rally-winning Pajero / Montero. The Frenchman, who won for Mitsubishi in 1998, eased into the pace and suffered nothing more than a puncture up until the fifth leg. However, the pair dropped to 12th overall when they got bogged down in sand on the El Borma - Ghadames stage in Tunisia (leg six), the first run totally off road, over Ergs and classic Dakar sand dunes. Putting their frustration behind them, the Frenchmen slowly climbed back up the leaderboard and, despite a heavy landing over a huge Egyptian dune which damaged the front end of the car, they moved up into third position after a calculated drive. They too benefited from Peterhansel's eleventh-hour problems and moved into second position yesterday after what a shattered Fontenay described as the most difficult stage of the whole event.
"Gilles and I are obviously happy to take second position", said Fontenay, "but we would have liked to do this in a different way. We are disappointed for St?phane and Jean-Paul (Cottret), because they were driving a perfect race. It has happened before and it will happen again".
St?phane Peterhansel and Jean-Paul Cottret, who had been in the lead for much of the rally - only briefly handing over the overall command to Masuoka on leg five - looked assured of victory until a dramatic turn of events in yesterday's penultimate leg. Despite stopping twice to check a leaking radiator, Peterhansel managed to hold on to his lead over Masuoka, but 45 kilometres from the stage finish, as he tried to overtake one of his rivals, he struck a rock and destroyed the front left wheel and suspension components in an almost identical incident to that which cost Masuoka victory on the Dakar in Senegal in 2001. As a consequence, he lost nearly three hours waiting for his assistance truck to arrive. Even so, the six-time bike winner claimed six stage victories and finished in Egypt with his second highest overall positioning in the car category.
"It is not very easy to understand why these things happen and why I lost the race", said Peterhansel. "It is only a sport. There are many things more important, but I will come back with complete motivation. Maybe there is logic in what happened, because it happened to Hiroshi as well two years ago. Maybe it will be my turn next year".
Portugal's Carlos Sousa and French co-driver Henri Magne finished the rally in fourth position and successfully fended off a late challenge from the South African Giniel de Villiers.
"I'm pleased with fourth because I was fifth twice before", said Sousa. "My car is much more competitive over the technical stages, like the one we had on Saturday (Abu Rish - Sharm El Sheikh, leg 16). I was one of the fastest drivers over the rocky sections. I don't have the top speed and the gearing of the cars in front and therefore I have no chance of beating them unless they have problems".
Italy's "Miki" Biasion and co-driver Tiziano Siviero dropped down the order from third overall to 15th at the end of leg 16, their final position hardly representative of a fine drive on Biasion's debut Dakar Rally in a car. Their position fluctuated between sixth and eighth in the early legs, and even a wheel problem and then time lost in the rolling plateaus of Murzuk's sand crests in Libya failed to discourage the Italians. Having climbed to third, they too suffered in the penultimate leg. After securing his first-ever stage victory in the Dakar, the gearbox jammed on Biasion's classic Pajero / Montero at the end of the leg and emergency repairs in a parc ferm? area resulted in a 10 hour penalty. Biasion, who celebrated his 45th birthday during the event, was holding an impressive third overall in his classic Pajero / Montero with just one 34 kilometre stage remaining.
"I didn't really sleep last night thinking about the time penalty", said Biasion. "But it is better to forget the past and look ahead to the future. I felt that I did a good job for the team and enjoyed working with such a friendly group of people. The Dakar was harder than I thought it would be, but I am here at the finish, made no mistakes and had no accidents. This is the most important thing. St?phane won six Dakars and has lost his first one in a car. I also feel that I have lost a top three place, but I have plenty of time in the future".
There was further success for Mitsubishi down the leaderboard. Spanish off-road champion Jos?-Luis Monterde and co-driver Rafael Tornabell clinched 10th and were classified as the top privateers in their Ralliart Pajero / Montero. They also finished second behind Frenchman Luc Alphand in the Super Production diesel category.
Brazilians Klever Kolberg and Roldan Lourival were 13th and won the Total Trophy for amateur drivers. "This year I think the Dakar was quite easy", said Kolberg. "It was a fast Dakar. We had no problems any day. We just had to service the car to avoid potential problems. Even the navigation was not too difficult. I prefer the rally when we have more corners and more work for the drivers, like the last big stage in Egypt".
Germany's Andrea Mayer made a successful transition from a bike to a car and was classified 21st in her Mitsubishi Ralliart Pajero / Montero on her first Dakar on four wheels. "We had a few problems along the way but I am so happy to reach the end", said Mayer. "I have learned many things about driving a car on these events, how to prevent problems and how to drive at a sensible pace. My best times have been in the dunes where my experience with the bike has helped me to follow the best tracks".
Portugal's Carlos Oliveira and co-driver Pedro Jordao finished 25th Poverall in their ajero / Montero.
The 2003 Telef?nica Dakar Rally has been yet another classic filled with drama, excitement, emotional highs and lows in what is always an event filled with agony and ecstasy for many of the bike, car and truck competitors. Mitsubishi Motors' drivers have however once again triumphed in what is regarded as the toughest and most gruelling motorsport event in the world and the Japanese manufacturer - that has four victories in hand to the second most successful manufacturers (Citro?n and Peugeot with four wins apiece) - will be back in 2004 to defend its title as the most successful manufacturer in the history of the Dakar Rally.