Dakar: Team Repsol stage nine report

TEAM REPSOL MITSUBISHI RALLIART SEIZE FIRST AND SECOND PLACES AFTER DRAMATIC DAY IN DAKAR RALLY Stéphane Peterhansel leads the overall standings followed by team mate Luc Alphand in second position. In the motorbike class, Marc Coma keeps ...

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

Stéphane Peterhansel leads the overall standings followed by team mate Luc Alphand in second position. In the motorbike class, Marc Coma keeps his solid leadership but looses Giovanni Sala, who withdraws after a crash 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 series of events, which saw 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. 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. 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. 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.

Again mixed fortunes for the Team Repsol KTM, in this ninth stage of the Lisbon Dakar Rally which saw how Marc Coma kept and strengthened his leadership in the overall standings --he has now an advantage of 54m 36s over the second classified, Frenchman Cyril Despres-, but also suffered a further setback with the withdrawal of Italian rider Giovanni Sala, who crashed at km 439 of the special and was forced to retire due to the several damages of his bike. Today, Coma had to face a special of more than 500 km but relatively calm, considering the venue. Sand, fast tracks, camel grass, dunes and navigation were some of the main obstacles Coma had to sort out to reach the finish of the special all alone, after having opened the track today due to yesterday's stage victory. Although the stage victory went to Latvian rider Vinters, no other rider has been able to catch-up with the Repsol KTM rider despite his hard work opening the track. And while Coma was crossing the finish line some time after 01.00 p.m. his team mate Giovanni Sala crashed at km 439 dislocating his left shoulder and seriously damaging his bike. Assisted by the doctors of the organisation on site, the brave Italian rider tried to get back on his bike to finish the stage after having his shoulder back in place and bandaged, but the damages of the bike unfortunately took him to finally retire from the African race.

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 Timbuktu special.

Stéphane Peterhansel
"When I saw Giniel De Villiers had stopped and there was the start of a fire on his car, it was unbelievable. 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."

Luc Alphand
"It was an amazing day. 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
"I had a good stage position today. 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."

Nani Roma
"The engine and the car are working very well now. 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."

Dominique Serieys (MMSP Sporting Director)
"I said to many people in Atar that the differences between the drivers at the rest day were very small. 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."

Marc Coma
"Today's stage has been very long again, with more than five hundred timed kilometres. The first part was very sandy, technically very difficult and physically very demanding. But we didn't come across too many dunes, just at the beginning some camel grass, but always on the track. Bit by bit I was able to get a higher pace, despite one section being more complicated due to navigation, but I've always felt good. We had to be very careful because the sand storm of the previous days left sand tongues over the track, which are not really dangerous by demand high attention. Then we arrived at the "Elephant Path" with very fine sand, followed by a stone-filled track which also demanded navigation due to some small dunes were the track got lost. The last part to Nema was much faster. We also had a bit of wind, but not a storm like in the last few days. I had to open the track today again during the whole stage, keeping the distance to Cyril (Depres). The most important is that we've managed to overcome a further day without problems and after two of the hardest stages in Mauritania, being where I am makes me feel satisfied. But there's still another day in Mauritania ahead and then many days of complicated navigation in black Africa, where any mistake can be very expensive. So we have to continue focussed."

Giovanni Sala
"I haven't felt comfortable with the wrist from early this morning and I didn't want to push too hard because I wasn't at a hundred per cent. I twisted my hand in a crash yesterday and therefore I wanted to take things easy today. The last hundred kilometres were a very fast track and fortunately I had no problems with my hand and was able to increase the pace. But then I went too fast over a stone after a bump and when I landed after the jump, I crashed. I hit against my shoulder and it dislocated. I tried to continue but the pain was so strong that I had to wait for the helicopter to come and have it bandaged. But the bike was too damaged to continue and there are more dunes in the following days so I won't be able to continue. I'm really sorry, especially for the Repsol KTM team and I want to thank them for the chance they have given me to be in this Dakar Rally. I haven't been able to do as well as last year, so we'll have to be patient and hope that everything works out fine in the end."

-credit: repsol

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About this article
Series Dakar
Drivers Carlos Sainz , Luc Alphand , Jean-Louis Schlesser , Hiroshi Masuoka , Stéphane Peterhansel , Jean-Paul Cottret , Gilles Picard , Giniel de Villiers , Pascal Maimon , Cyril Despres , Giovanni Sala , Nani Roma , Marc Coma , Lucas Cruz