Peterhansel extends lead in Dakar rally.
Frenchman St?phane Peterhansel, six-times Dakar winner in the motorbike category, further extended his lead in the 2003 Telef?nica Dakar Rally today. The Pajero Evolution / Montero Evolution he shares with co-driver Jean-Paul Cottret completed today's stage in third place, pulling out his lead over his Mitsubishi Motors team-mate, Hiroshi Masuoka, to 16 minutes and 52 seconds.
For the third day in succession, the competitors have faced an extremely long stage, this time taking them from Sabha to Zilla, a total distance of 585 km, of which 567 were run as special stage. For the first 300 kilometres today, the competitors crossed the rolling plateaus of Murzuk's sand crests. Afterwards, they moved from golden sand to darker volcanic rocks, as the trails led into the Al Haruj massif, a real test of navigation due to the many tracks, numerous changes of direction and lack of reliable landmarks.
Japan's Hiroshi Masuoka had a more trying day, losing time with no fewer than five flat tyres while going over the rocky second half of today's stage. However, he managed to stay within contact of Peterhansel, and the two Mitsubishi Motors drivers have maintained their commanding lead in the overall classification. Their nearest rival, Gr?goire de Mevius and his BMW X5, is over an hour behind Peterhansel. Five Mitsubishis are now in the top seven.
"Today was a very hard stage, covering almost 300 kilometres over rocky terrain", Peterhansel explained afterwards. "You have two options in this situation. You either drive very fast, or you drive slowly. We chose the slower option, which meant that I did not get any punctures. But Hiroshi had several flat tyres. The first part of the stage was very fast, and we decided to be careful. It was a good decision; we have a big advantage, but it is not yet enough!"
As for Masuoka, he finished in 8th place, 11 minutes behind the leader, to maintain his second place in the overall leader board. "From the beginning of the stage, it was very fast, and the tyres were really hot", he said. "Then we entered the rocky section, and had problems with punctures. Jean-Pierre Fontenay stopped to give me a tyre. We then overtook him, and then stopped and needed his help again. We had flat tyres all the time today".
The leading Mitsubishi driver today, Jean-Pierre Fontenay, also of France, improved on his third position in stage eight by setting the second-fastest time on stage nine, the first best time for the Mitsubishi crew, driving his classic Mitsubishi Pajero / Montero. He has now moved up to sixth place in the overall classification. "We helped Hiroshi today, which is part of being in a team. We have a good team spirit, and it was my pleasure to be able to help", he said. "It was an enjoyable stage for me today, very fast at the start and then quite tricky - the stage was really good for me".
Italians "Miki" Biasion and Tiziano Siviero, driving the n° 207 Mitsubishi Pajero, recovered from the problems they encountered on Thursday to take sixth place in the stage. They are now classified in seventh place overall, just behind the leading classic Pajero / Montero of Fontenay and Picard. Portugal's Carlos Sousa finished in eighth position today in his Mitsubishi L200 Strakar, elevating him to fifth place overall. Jos?-Luis Monterde, from Spain, maintained his position as the leading privateer driver, at the wheel of his Mitsubishi Pajero / Montero, while Brazilian Klever Kolberg has built up a lead of over one hour in the Total Trophy for Amateurs, also driving a Mitsubishi.
Tonight, the competitors have set up camp at the exposed desert settlement at Zilla, 350 metres above sea-level. On arrival at the remote airstrip that would serve as their overnight bivouac, they were greeted by a representative of Mohamed Ghadaffi, the President of the Libyan Olympic Committee and son of Libyan President Colonel Ghaddafi.
Tomorrow, the competitors will head east towards Sarir, with a 521 km special stage starting after 31 km of liaison. For the first time this year, the use of the GPS (Global Positioning System) will be forbidden, with the pressure firmly on the co-drivers to find the defined route across the sandy tracks and heavy sand towards their destination.