Dakar: Mitsubishi stage nine report

TEAM REPSOL MITSUBISHI RALLIART SEIZE FIRST AND SECOND PLACES AFTER DRAMATIC DAY IN DAKAR RALLY Team Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart were the beneficiaries from a dramatic ninth special stage of the 29th Dakar Rally between Tichit and Néma ...

TEAM REPSOL MITSUBISHI RALLIART SEIZE FIRST AND SECOND PLACES AFTER DRAMATIC DAY IN DAKAR RALLY

Team Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart were the beneficiaries from a dramatic ninth special stage of the 29th Dakar Rally between Tichit and Néma in Mauritania on Monday.

After a dramatic turn of events, whereby overall rally leader Giniel de Villiers badly delayed with engine-related problems and arch rival Carlos Sainz stopped with electrical woes, the Mitsubishi crews of Stéphane Peterhansel/Jean-Paul Cottret and Luc Alphand/Gilles Picard arrived in Néma in first and second positions in the overall classification. They set the third and second fastest times on the tricky 494km special stage, which was won by Frenchman Jean-Louis Schlesser.

Peterhansel and Cottret headed into this morning's stage behind overall leader de Villiers, but they were forced to stop and change the clutch. A late puncture failed to halt their progress and the winners of the Dakar in 2004 and 2005 arrived at the stage finish in third place to take the overall lead.

"When I saw Giniel De Villiers had stopped and there was the start of a fire on his car, it was unbelievable," said Peterhansel. "He had driven a great race so far. After that Jean-Paul and I knew we were in a good position, but we had our own problems with the clutch and spent 15 minutes changing it. Carlos, Mark Miller and Schlesser passed us and I really tried to catch them all. Then I saw Carlos stopped after a big jump and began to follow Luc. But we had a puncture near the end and I had to stop and change the wheel."

Alphand and Picard began the stage in third position and were classified sixth at the first passage control. Problems for their rivals pushed the defending champions into overall contention and Alphand recorded the second fastest time to move up to second overall, 7m 50s behind his team mate.

"It was an amazing day," said Alphand. "We saw De Villiers stopped and thought it was good for us. But I knew that Stéphane was pushing. Then we saw that he had stopped as well and I knew that we would have to lift off, because my turn for some bad luck may have been just around the corner. Then Sainz, Miller and Stéphane caught me. My pace was not so fast. They passed me and then Carlos stopped again with Miller alongside. Then I saw Stéphane and we finished the stage! Amazing..."

Hiroshi Masuoka and Pascal Maimon were classified fifth through the first passage control and fourth at PC2. They eventually finished the stage in fourth place, despite changing two flat tires and stopping a third time to check for a potential slow puncture.

"I had a good stage position today," said Masuoka. "But I think I could have won the special. I had two flat tires and stopped again once to check that the tires were okay. That was, perhaps, the difference between winning the stage and finishing fourth."

Joan 'Nani' Roma and Lucas Cruz were able to cure the minor electrical problem, which had dogged their progress into Tichit, and restarted in 18th place overall. They were seventh quickest through PC1, after making rapid progress over the opening kilometres. They were up to fifth at PC2 and maintained that position to the finish. The Spaniards now lie just outside the top 10 in the overall standings.

"The engine and the car are working very well now," said Roma. "I did not want to push too hard, because I am working to help the rest of the team. I have a good starting position for the next stage, so I will do my best to support the other three cars."

"I said to many people in Atar that the differences between the drivers at the rest day were very small," said MMSP's Managing and Sporting Director Dominique Serieys. "Anything and everything can happen in Mauritania. After one very hard week in Morocco there is always a strain on the cars. The rally will be very difficult until Tambacounda, and maybe even Dakar. Now we are leading, we are not under pressure. But we have to manage our new strategy in a very intelligent way."

"It was a very positive day, but we have to take great care now for the final days," said MMSP's President Isao Torii. "We will do our best. I feel very sorry for Volkswagen, but that is the nature of this rally. It is so unpredictable."

***

China's Lui Bin and Russian Novitskiy enjoy clean runs into Néma

Frenchman Housieaux leads Mitsubishi privateer challenge in 19th

Thailand's Pornsiriched back on the pace into Néma

China's Lui Bin and French co-driver Serge Henninot finished the Atar to Tichit stage in a highly-creditable 35th position, after the driver's first real taste of the one of the most difficult special stages on the Dakar Rally. He held 51st overall at the start of the stage into Néma this morning and was unofficially classified as 39th at 18.10hrs and moved up to 46th overall.

"It was a long stage into Tichit, very tough, said Bin. "There were many cars stuck at the start of the stage and I did not want to follow them into trouble, so I found a route around the problems and it worked very well.

"Today was a very good day. I had just one puncture and four times I got stuck in the sand. The car is perfect. There are no problems at all and I am starting to enjoy the rally. After seven stages in Africa I am learning how to manage the pace and how to work really well with my co-driver."

Frenchman Dominique Housieaux and former Mitsubishi factory co-driver Jean-Michel Polato were the leading privateer crew in the Dakar at the start of the Tichit to Néma stage. Housieaux was 20th fastest into Tichit and held a similar position overall. The Frenchman finished 25th in the stage into Néma and climbed a place to 19th overall.

"I have been driving with great care," admitted the Frenchman. "I stopped in the dunes to inflate and deflate the tires yesterday. It takes time, but it is worth it. Patience is the name of the game for me on some of the very difficult stages."

Thailand's Mana Pornsiriched and French co-driver Jean Brucy arrived in the Tichit bivouac at 03.56 hrs on Monday morning and didn't have long to catch up on some much-needed rest before taking the start of the stage into Néma at 10.29 hrs. The lack of sleep failed to stop the Thai driver finishing the stage in an excellent 31st position.

"I had no punctures today and I did not get stuck," said Pornsiriched. "I actually enjoyed the beautiful scenery here in Mauritania. It was a real shame that I had problems in Atar yesterday morning with the fuel pump, otherwise it would have been a perfect Marathon stage for me."

Russian Leonid Novitskiy finished the Tichit to Néma stage in 29th position and held 26th in the overall classification at the start of the day's stage. He completed Monday's special in 19th place and moved up to 23rd overall.

Brazilian Klever Kolberg restarted this morning from the rear of the field, alongside Mana Pornsiriched, after delays into Tichit, but he enjoyed an excellent stage and set the 21st fastest time.

Tomorrow (Tuesday), teams will follow an amended route after the ASO announced on December 23rd that the route of the 29th Dakar Rally would not head across Malian territory to the tourist outpost at Timbuktu. Instead of the tricky special to the remote outpost, teams will tackle a 366km loop section around Néma, starting 10km from the bivouac and finishing 24km away.

Néma is surrounded by vast expanses of sandy wasteland and, according to the ASO, this stage is a worthy replacement for the Tikbuktu special.

-credit: mitsubishi

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About this article
Series Dakar
Drivers Mark Miller , Luc Alphand , Jean-Louis Schlesser , Hiroshi Masuoka , Jean-Paul Cottret , Gilles Picard , Pascal Maimon , Jean Brucy , Klever Kolberg , Serge Henninot , Dominique Housieaux , Jean-Michel Polato , Mana Pornsiriched , Lucas Cruz