Luc Alphand Third Overall in The Mitsubishi Pajero / Montero Evolution
Peterhansel struck by punctures, Masuoka hits suspension problems
Luc Alphand and Gilles Picard lead the Mitsubishi Motors Repsol ATS Studios Team assault after the fifth leg of the 2005 Telefonica Dakar Rally. The French Pajero / Montero Evolution crew powered through today's stage to climb one position up the leaderboard and into third overall, just six minutes adrift of stage victor and overall leader Colin McRae. Team-mates Stephane Peterhansel and Hiroshi Masuoka suffered a disappointing leg, the Mitsubishi Pajero / Montero Evolution crews struck by punctures and suspension problems respectively.
Today's leg took the crews from Agadir to Smara, in the Western Sahara, for the final day of action through Morocco. The day started with a 240 kilometer liaison to the start of the stage in Guelmin and, for the crews, the 381 competitive kilometer section was one of the toughest of the event so far. While there was high and low speed action, rough and very rocky terrain also slowed machines and it marked the start of the Dakar action proper for all the crews.
Frenchmen Alphand and co-driver Gilles Picard were fifth through today's long stage and hold a fine third overall as they arrived at the Smara bivouac.
"I am quite happy with the way everything is working so far", said the Pajero / Montero Evolution driver. "The pace at the front is really high, maybe on a par with a Baja race, and I am happy to be among the leaders. It is a little frightening for the mechanics, but I still feel sure that reliability and a good team strategy will be the key".
"Robby Gordon has been driving like an American! Today we began the hardest week of the rally and this was the first real African stage. I was sure that there would be problems for some people today. There was the risk of tire damage, but I am in a good frame of mind".
Mitsubishi's former Dakar Rally winners Stephane Peterhansel and Jean-Paul Cottret had a bad day with a series of punctures and the French crew lost nearly 25 minutes to the leaders. They overnight in 14th position.
"It was not a big difference this morning, but there is a long way to go", said Peterhansel. "Yesterday, Colin McRae had a flat tire early on and we were forced to run first on the road because there were no bikes. Today we started behind Robby Gordon. Last time we came here we had flat tires on the Rally of Morocco, but it was 20 degrees cooler this time. I did not expect any problems with tires, but we had flat tires again today. It was my fault, because I did not feel too well today and did not see the stones in the track".
Joan 'Nani' Roma and co-driver Henri Magne are continuing at a measured pace in the third Mitsubishi Pajero / Montero Evolution. The Spaniard, who is competing for the first time in a car, finished 17th in the stage and holds the same position overall.
"I am pleasantly surprised with my position so far", said Roma. "I started slowly yesterday and am growing in confidence. I have found a good rhythm, which keeps me in contention without taking any risks. I knew today's stage from old Dakars on a bike and the Rally of Morocco and it was important that I slowed down at the start and did not risk flat tires or damage to the car".
Mitsubishi's rapid support driver Andrea Mayer and her new French co-driver Jean-Michel Polato finished the stage in 21st position in their L200 Pick-Up. The German now holds 19th position overall.
"I am still trying to find a nice rhythm", said Mayer. "I tackled my first Dakar in a car with Francois Borsotto, so speaking French in the car is not a problem for me. We now have a good system. My plan is to wait for the longest stages because I do not have the power of the Pajero / Montero Evolutions, so my best chance for a top stage result is on the longer, more difficult stages".
Hiroshi Masuoka and co-driver Andreas Schulz had a heart-wrenching day. A damaged front right wishbone on the team's fourth Pajero / Montero Evolution lost them too much time to remain in contention for a hat-trick of wins.
"It was not a good day for us", admitted Team Director Dominique Serieys. "But that is the Dakar. It would have been better if we were first, second and third, but Hiroshi made a mistake. When we left Agadir I asked him to drive slowly and take care in the dust. Stephane has been suffering with the 'flu and Luc was blocked in the dust behind Jutta Kleinschmidt's Volkswagen on the run into Smara for 250 kilometers.
"We still have a lot of time to get back into contention for the victory," he continued. "We will see on Saturday night what the situation is. It is not a small gap to close, but it is possible. We also had some minor Kinetic suspension problems. Now we will change the strategy for Hiroshi. He will become a really fast service car and provide good support for Luc and Stephane".
Tomorrow, the Dakar Rally hits the dunes for the first of six stages in the Islamic Republic of Mauritania. A 121 kilometer liaison takes the crews from Smara to the Mauritanian border and the start of the mammoth 492 competitive kilometer stage. Nearly 245 kilometers of rapid pistes follow before the dunes appear and absolute skill behind the wheel and top navigation come into play. Those crews with these combined talents are sure to reign supreme. At the end of the section, a short nine kilometer liaison will take weary crews into the bivouac at Zouerat.
Housieaux regains Mitsubishi Ralliart customer team lead
Chinese driver Men delayed by a train
Thailand's Siriwattanakun forced out
The Mitsubishi Pajero / Montero crew of Dominique Housieaux and Loïc Fagot have regained the lead of the Mitsubishi Ralliart team's assault and the French duo has moved up the leaderboard from an overnight 22nd to 20th. Ralliart team stage honors however went to Brazilians Klever Kolberg and Roldan Lourival, the pair finishing the stage first of the customer drivers and one place ahead of Housieaux in 18th position. They overnight just one position adrift in 21st overall.
Krzysztof Holowczyc and Belgian co-driver Jean-Marc Fortin began today's stage in 19th position in their Mitsubishi Pajero / Montero, but the Polish former European Rally Champion felt the need for a six-speed gearbox and was then delayed with mechanical problems near the end of the stage.
"I came from the World Rally Championship and am obviously used to a powerful rally car", said the Pole, who has slipped to 27th overall. "A six-speed gearbox would be nice. Maybe the team can fly one into Atâr. I am quite happy with everything at this stage. It is so different to the WRC. Speeds are slower and you have plenty of time to turn into corners. Today's stage was the longest of my life. It was incredible when you compare it say to a 6 kilometer special stage on Rally GB!"
Chinese Pajero / Montero driver Guan Yuang Men enjoyed his run through today's stage, despite being held up by a train for six minutes yesterday on the stage into Agadir.
"We met a train in the stage", said Men, who climbed from 46th to 40th position today. "Yes it was incredible! Maybe the train only passes this way once a year, but it came straight in front of us and we had to stop. After that it was narrow and rocky and we caught some cars, but were not able to pass them in the dust. The delay cost us maybe 20 places in the stage. Today was a case of taking no risks and making sure we gained a little time back. I prefer the gravel stages to driving in the dunes. It is so different".
Dutchman Toni van Deijne was enjoying his first experience of the Dakar in a Ralliart Pajero / Montero. "The team has made some good work with the car", said Van Deijne, who overnights in 43rd position. "It is fine so far. I plan to drive carefully until the rest day in Atar and then maybe we can push a little and move up the leaderboard".
Thailand's Pornsawan Siriwattanakun has been forced to withdraw from the event. He lost over 10 minutes yesterday when he had to stop in the dust of a slower competitor, but the Mitsubishi Truck Evolution driver then suffered severe back pains last night and had to withdraw with a possible slipped disc.