Dakar: Mitsubishi stage three report

ROMA LEADS MITSUBISHI ONE-TWO AS DAKAR RALLY ARRIVES IN AFRICA The Mitsubishi Pajero / Montero Evolution crew of Joan 'Nani' Roma and Henri Magne lead the Dakar Rally after the third leg of the event from Nador to Er Rachidia in Morocco. The...

ROMA LEADS MITSUBISHI ONE-TWO AS DAKAR RALLY ARRIVES IN AFRICA

The Mitsubishi Pajero / Montero Evolution crew of Joan 'Nani' Roma and Henri Magne lead the Dakar Rally after the third leg of the event from Nador to Er Rachidia in Morocco. The pair was sixth fastest in today's competitive section to power into the lead as the convoy of bikes, cars and trucks faced the first African challenge. Team-mates Hiroshi Masuoka and Pascal Maimon set second quickest time, ending the day just six seconds off the lead, while Stephane Peterhansel and Luc Alphand hold sixth and ninth respectively to end a great day for the Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart Team.

The day's 314 kilometer stage was a new one for the Dakar, alternating twisty tracks with open terrain and rocky river beds. Today was also the first major challenge for the co-drivers; new regulations mean that navigation is much trickier and the road book must be followed diligently. Overnight front-runners Carlos Sainz and Luc Alphand suffered from opening the route and slipped to fourth and ninth respectively.

Joan 'Nani' Roma and Henri Magne started the day in third position and were on the pace from the outset. The Mitsubishi Pajero / Montero Evolution crew were second fastest through the stage, behind Jean-Louis Schlesser, to take the outright lead.

"I am very surprised and happy to be leading," said Roma. "I just tried to reach the finish without any mistakes. I had no real problems and I will continue with this strategy tomorrow - just drive and make no errors. It is dangerous to push in the dust. At one point there were 10 or 15 bikes together."

Masuoka and French co-driver Maimon, with whom he won the Dakar Rally for the first time in 2002, held third overall through the opening passage control at the 122 kilometer point this morning, but were the first car to cross the finish line after starting sixth on the road.

"Today there was a lot of dust," said Masuoka. "We drove for about 200 kilometers with Carlos (Sainz), Luc and (Nasser) Al-Attiyah. Then I overtook Luc, Carlos lost his way a little, and I was in second position. Then I overtook Nasser and was first on the road by the end of the stage. There were motorcycles everywhere!"

Peterhansel and co-driver Jean-Paul Cottret arrived in Africa in 10th position overall and climbed to sixth place. "Today's stage was difficult with the number of bikes and cars running closely together," said Peterhansel. "I kept my distance to stay out of the dust and avoid hitting a rock or a big hole in the track."

Alphand and co-driver Gilles Picard began the first African stage in second place behind the early leader Carlos Sainz, but slipped to ninth in the overall standings after losing time in rivals' dust.

"We let Carlos, Nasser and Hiroshi pass us today and then we were in their dust," said Alphand. "If you want to finish the stage safely you need to keep out of the dust of the car in front. It was just like a long train of cars and bikes today. There was no chance to get into a rhythm."

Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart Team Director Dominique Serieys said: "We opted for a safe strategy over the first few days in Morocco, but it is very pleasing to be not only in touch with our rivals, but actually leading the rally, with the first two places. 'Nani' has really benefited from his recent experience and again proved that we have four drivers who can win the Dakar this year."

"I told our drivers that the Volkswagens are our main rivals, but we should also watch out for Jean-Louis Schlesser and Robbie Gordon, and 'Schless' proved the point and was the fastest today. We will maintain our strategy and see what develops. But it was a good day for us."

Tomorrow will be the longest stage of the 28th Dakar Rally to date. A short 56 kilometer liaison section takes competitors to the start of the 386 kilometer stage. This section runs close to the Algerian frontier and crews will encounter the first dunes of the event in this classic Dakar stage. With stony river beds, sandy tracks, fast laterite pistes, dry lakes, and the new navigational rules, both drivers and co-drivers will be tested to the full. A 197 kilometer road section then takes teams to the overnight halt at the tourist resort of Ouarzazate.

-mitsubishi

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Series Dakar
Drivers Carlos Sainz , Luc Alphand , Jean-Louis Schlesser , Henri Magne , Hiroshi Masuoka , Stéphane Peterhansel , Jean-Paul Cottret , Gilles Picard , Pascal Maimon