Dakar: Mitsubishi stage nine report

The Mitsubishi Motors Repsol ATS Studios Team enjoyed a successful ninth leg of the Dakar Rally between Tidjikja and Atâr in Mauritania on Saturday. Team drivers Luc Alphand, Stéphane Peterhansel and Hiroshi Masuoka completed the 361 kilometer...

The Mitsubishi Motors Repsol ATS Studios Team enjoyed a successful ninth leg of the Dakar Rally between Tidjikja and Atâr in Mauritania on Saturday. Team drivers Luc Alphand, Stéphane Peterhansel and Hiroshi Masuoka completed the 361 kilometer stage in first, second and fifth positions, with Peterhansel and Alphand consolidating their first and second places in the overall standings.

Today's route headed west towards the half-way point at Atâr, the largest town in the Chinguetti tribal region of Mauritania, which has been a regular rest day venue for the Dakar Rally in recent seasons. After a three-kilometer liaison section, teams tackled a fast-running 361 kilometer special stage with a difficult finish in the sand dunes of the immense Chinguetti Erg, before another short liaison brought them to the rest halt in Atâr. The tiny air strip and surrounding area will play host to the traditional and well-deserved rally rest day tomorrow, where several hundred media and VIPs will attend from Europe.

Luc Alphand and co-driver Gilles Picard took their first fastest time of the race and their first as a partnership in the Mitsubishi Motors team. The former World Downhill skiing champion beat his team mate by 1min 31sec.

"We tried to maintain a reasonable pace and had a flat tire", said Alphand. "Then we stopped to deflate the tires for the dunes and had a second puncture. Maybe the tire pressure was too low. But I am delighted to take my first stage win with the Mitsubishi and it leaves me in a good position for the final week of the race.

"I don't feel any pressure at the moment. Stéphane is very strong and is driving well. Everyone wants to win this race, but we have overcome some problems this week and will restart on Monday in a very strong position".

Peterhansel and co-driver Jean-Paul Cottret took the second fastest time in their Mitsubishi Pajero / Montero Evolution. The defending champion will take a 20-minute outright lead into Monday's tricky Atâr loop stage.

"I feel much better than I did a couple of days ago", said Peterhansel. "The stage was not easy today. There were some large dune fields and the navigation was difficult".

Japan's Hiroshi Masuoka and German co-driver Andreas Schulz arrived at the stage finish, near Atar, with the fifth fastest time. "We had two flat tires today and were forced to change the left rear twice", said Masuoka. The two-time Dakar winner held ninth overall at the start of the day in the third Mitsubishi Pajero / Montero Evolution and reached the rest day in sixth overall.

Germany's Andrea Mayer and French co-driver Jean-Michel Polato set the tenth fastest time into the Atâr bivouac and moved up to 14th overall in their Mitsubishi L200 Pick-Up.

"One hundred kilometers in front of CP1, I saw 'Nani' stuck in the wall of a sand dune and we towed him out and got stuck ourselves for a short time", said Mayer. "After that we saw that he put air in his tires and he overtook us and moved ahead. In the next dune field we thought he had already arrived, but he hadn't and then we got lost ourselves for around 10 minutes".

Spaniard Joan 'Nani' Roma and co-driver Henri Magne began the stage in sixth position in the overall standings, but were forced to wait for the assistance truck after getting stuck on the run into Atâr.

Tomorrow is the traditional rest day on this year's Dakar Rally, where teams are able to give a thorough overhaul to all the surviving cars in the race. A large number of VIPs, guests and media arrived this afternoon from Europe to give the depleted bivouac a chaotic feel to it.

Crews start the final stretch of the rally on Monday with a 483 kilometer loop around Atâr in some of the largest and most difficult dune crossings competitors have ever experienced on Dakar.

Five Ralliart teams make it to stage start in Tidjikja
Van Deijne leads Mitsubishi Ralliart crews

The Mitsubishi Pajero / Montero of Dutchman Toni van Deijne and co-driver Francisco van Deijne led the Mitsubishi Ralliart teams into the stage between Tidjikja and Atâr in 35th position. Brazilians Klever Kolberg and Rouldan Lourival started the day in 56th overall.

Poland's Krzysztof Holowczyc and Belgian co-driver Jean-Marc Fortin spent no less than 15 hours stranded a mere 20 kms from the stage finish in Tichit on Thursday evening and arrived in Tichit at 1600 hrs on Friday afternoon. Holowczyc was awarded a nine-hour time penalty and permitted to continue in the race.

"I arrived from hell", said the shattered Pole. "We were just stuck there, so helpless, with no fuel. I put a sign in the side of the car, saying 'one liter of fuel wanted, $100!'. It was desperate. We could not sleep properly in the night. I managed maybe to get 90 minutes sleeping against the steering wheel".

Russian Alexey Berkut and Frenchman Dominique Housieaux also managed to reach the Tichit bivouac the following afternoon and retook their places at the start of today's stage into Atâr, alongside Kolberg and Van Deijne.

"It is a big relief to get through the last two days", said Ralliart team manager Jürgen Masal. "The drivers we have left in the race are doing a great job and, now that we can spend a whole day working on those cars in Atâr, I am confident that they can all reach Dakar. Toni has driven very well and Dominique, Klever and Krzysztof are all capable of setting good stage times next week. I feel much happier than I did two days ago".

-mitsubishi-

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About this article
Series Dakar
Drivers Luc Alphand , Henri Magne , Hiroshi Masuoka , Andreas Schulz , Stéphane Peterhansel , Jean-Paul Cottret , Gilles Picard , Klever Kolberg , Andrea Mayer , Dominique Housieaux , Jean-Michel Polato , Krzysztof Holowczyc , Jean-Marc Fortin , Alexey Berkut