Mitsubishi's Peterhansel edges further ahead.
Mitsubishi's St?phane Peterhansel and his co-driver Jean-Paul Cottret strengthened their hold on the top place in the overall classification of this year's Telef?nica Dakar Rally, by setting the sixth fastest time during today's 14th stage, taking them from Dakhla to Luxor. Their n° 206 Misubishi Pajero Evolution now has a lead of 27 minutes and 13 seconds over the second-placed Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution / Montero Evolution of Hiroshi Masuoka and Andreas Schulz, while Misubishi Motors Team cars occupy the top five places on the overall leaders board.
Today's leg was 702 km long, including 274 km of special stage, from the Dakhla oasis to the city of Luxor, world famous for its archaeological remains. Using long-forgotten tracks, already well known in the time of the Pharaohs, when caravans of camels headed for the Sudan, the Dakar caravan started off the special stage with a winding hill-climb, leading to the camel trail. The track then disappeared, with just faint traces in the rocky massif. This was followed by pure off-road navigation, heading for the right valley that would lead them down the cliff.
The stage was won by the BMW X5 of Frenchman Luc Alphand and his British co-driver Matthew Stevenson - their first stage win. Alphand, the former World Downhill Skiing Champion, became the first sportsman to successfully switch from another sporting discipline and take a stage win on the Dakar. The Mitsubishi Pajero / Montero of Jean-Pierre Fontenay finished in second place, ahead of the Nissan Pickup of Giniel de Villiers.
"I drove more slowly again today to make sure I took no risks and stayed close to Hiroshi," sixth-placed Peterhansel explained. "The problem when you slow down is that you hear all the rattles and groans from the car and you begin to feel a little nervous. It was a short stage, but wasn't very easy. After the first passage control we lost the good road and spent some time trying to find the waypoint. But we followed a trail left by some bikes and finally we were okay."
Second in the overall classification, Hiroshi Masuoka had a flat tyre today, and finished the stage in seventh position. Frenchman Jean-Pierre Fontenay was the fastest of the Mitsubishi drivers, setting the second fastest time and strengthening his grip on third position in the leading classic Mitsubishi Pajero / Montero cars.
'We started quite fast this morning to try and catch "Miki" Biasion, because he was in front of us," said Fontenay's co-driver, Gilles Picard. "We saw that he had a flat tyre and after that we slowed down. It was a nice stage, with quite varied terrain: sandy, twisty, rocky - everything except for dunes."
Italian "Miki" Biasion was fifth in today's stage, and currently holds fourth place overall. The twice former FIA World Rally Champion started the day's section 10 minutes ahead of Portugal's Carlos Sousa, driving the fifth-placed Mitsubishi L200 Strakar, but gained a further 4m 07s on Sousa today . "I had a puncture today," Biasion explained. "I wasn't so lucky, but there are three more days to go and I am safe in fourth position at the moment. I think I could have finished higher by driving quicker, but when you have a problem every day without pushing, you spend too much time thinking about what might happen. Carlos is behind me, and it will be difficult for him to catch up unless I have a major problem."
"There is a close battle for fifth place between myself and Giniel de Villiers," said Sousa. "It was not so easy today. Our navigation was not perfect - we were either a little to the left or to the right of the correct tracks. We were having a hillclimb competition with De Villiers ! We caught up with him in the technical section, but his car has a higher top speed and therefore he gained time today."
The top privateer Jos?-Luis Monterde lost his advantage in the Super Production diesel category today. Driving a Ralliart-prepared Mitsubishi Pajero / Montero, Monterde, from Spain, was lying 10th overall at the start of the stage, with a lead of 40 minutes ahead of 11th-placed Alphand, conceded the advantage to the stage-winning Frenchman. He now holds second in the category heading into Friday's penultimate long stage and slipped back to 11th overall.
Tomorrow, a 75 km liaison section will take the Mitsubishi Motors Team into a potentially tricky 477 km special stage, starting to the north of Luxor and heading further north towards Abu Rish across numerous deceptive tracks in the Eastern Desert. A 24 km road section then takes teams into the last overnight halt before the final two nights in Sharm El Sheikh.