TEAM REPSOL MITSUBISHI RALLIART BIDS FOR SEVENTH SUCCESSIVE DAKAR RALLY WIN WITH PROVEN FOUR-CAR LINE-UP
Mitsubishi Motors Corporation (MMC) and its motorsport unit MMSP have entered four cars and the team's contracted four drivers in the 2007 Dakar Rally, as the Japanese manufacturer bids to become the first team in history to win seven successive Dakar rallies and clinch a record-breaking 12 overall victories in 25 years. Mitsubishi entered the event for the first time in 1983.
The Mitsubishi team has not been beaten on the grueling African event since the Millennium and has entered a team of four of the very latest MPR13 versions of the all-conquering Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero Evolution for the 16-day event, starting in Lisbon on Saturday, January 6th and finishing in Dakar, Senegal, on Sunday, January 21st, 2007.
Mitsubishi has an unchanged driver line-up for the 2007 Dakar Rally campaign. Spearheading the Japanese brand's challenge are the twice former winners Stephane Peterhansel and Hiroshi Masuoka, defending champion Luc Alphand and Spaniard Joan 'Nani' Roma, who was third overall last January.
Peterhansel teams up with regular co-driver Jean-Paul Cottret and Masuoka is partnered by Frenchman Pascal Maimon, with whom he won the event in 2002. Roma will tackle the Dakar for the first time with Spanish team newcomer Lucas Cruz Senra, while defending champion Alphand lays faith in his trusty French co-driver Gilles Picard.
Peterhansel won no less than six Dakar titles during an illustrious career as a motorcycle rider and became only the second individual in the 28-year history of the event to win outright on both two and four wheels when he won the Dakar with Mitsubishi in 2004. He repeated the success the following season and was leading in 2006 until suspension problems intervened and pushed him down to fourth place. Masuoka, meanwhile, won outright in 2002 and 2003 and finished as the runner-up in 2004.
"I am feeling very confident about the Dakar," said Peterhansel. "The new MPR13 is stable and corners very well. It rides safely in all situations and I am completely satisfied that we have made big improvements on last year's car. Jean-Paul and I work well as a team and we will need to be at our best against mush stronger opposition this year. The Dakar is an unpredictable event, so we will need to call upon all our experience to achieve a third win together."
"It is important for me to do well in the Dakar Rally this time," said Masuoka. "My retirement last January so early in the race was very disappointing, but the tests have gone very well this year and I have been impressed with the car and the way it handles. It would be a fantastic feeling to win the race for a third time."
Frenchman Luc Alphand was a former World Downhill skiing champion before he became involved in cross-country rallying. He was the first driver in history to win a stage of the Dakar in a diesel-engine car, before joining the factory Mitsubishi team in 2004.
'Lucho' went on to finish second overall on his first Dakar Rally with the Mitsubishi team in 2005 and followed up this result with an outright win in 2006 and a victory in the punishing Patagonia-Atacama Rally in South America two months later.
"It was like a dream for me to win the Dakar Rally last time," admits Alphand. "I have won major skiing competitions, but this was so very different. It was a great team effort and that is the important factor with the Dakar. We are a team and I am merely the driver. Everyone plays a vital role in the successes we have achieved and I am confident that we have a great team again, which is more than capable of winning the Dakar in January. Stephane and Hiroshi have won the Dakar twice. I would like to do the same."
Spaniard Roma joined Team Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart in the autumn of 2005 and went on to finish second in the Qatar Baja, sixth on the Dakar and fourth in both the Patagonia-Atacama and Morocco rallies, before taking a maiden win in the 2005 Baja Spain. He finished third overall in the 2006 Dakar Rally and second overall in the Transiberico Rally, but suffered the tragic loss of his co-driver Henri Magne in a freak accident during June's Rally of Morocco.
The Spanish co-driver Lucas Cruz Senra duly joined the Mitsubishi team in the autumn, bringing with him six years' experience in both the FIA World Rally Championship and international Cross-Country events.
"The new car is much better for me," said Roma. "I am tall and there is more space inside the cabin for my legs and head. It is more comfortable. To be competitive in the dunes, on the tracks and in the camel grass, you need to have a compromise and I feel that the MPR13 is the ideal balanced car. It is lower and easier to drive. I will never be able to replace Henri and his vast experience, but I have a good feeling about my partnership with Lucas. We speak the same language and I am sure that we will have a successful working relationship."
MMSP's Team Director Dominique Serieys is upbeat about the team's chances of retaining its Dakar title: "We completed two crucial African tests with the new car and everything was extremely encouraging. We carried out 6,000 km of testing over two weeks in Morocco in September and a total of 11,000 km over the two tests, before we took part in the UAE Desert Challenge in Dubai. Our rivals have also been making progress, but I am quietly confident that the new MPR13 is capable of giving Mitsubishi another victory in the Dakar Rally in January."
"I have been with this team for the last two wins and I would dearly like to see a hat-trick of victories in January," said MMSP's President Isao Torii. "It has been a privilege to be a part of the success so far. The team has been working harder than ever to develop our new car and we are all looking forward to the next Dakar and trying to achieve the goal of yet another victory."
"At Mitsubishi Motors we are convinced that what we will learn from the Paris-Dakar challenge with the new MPR13 will be applied to the development of the fifth-generation Pajero in the future," said Osamu Nakayama, General Manager, of the Motor Sport Department of Mitsubishi Motors's Okazaki R&D Center.
The 2007 Dakar Rally will start for the second successive season from the Portuguese capital of Lisbon, albeit six days after the New Year holidays for the first time since 2000. The opening timed special stage will take place on January 6th during the run south to Portimao on the Algarve coast.
Scrutineering and documentation take place in Lisbon on January 4th and 5th, before a capacity entry of cars, bikes and trucks heads south through Portugal and on towards Spain and the Mediterranean Sea crossing to Morocco.
Over the following two weeks the capacity entry heads deep into Africa and through the depths of southern Morocco and across the treacherous Mauritanian Sahara. From there the route heads further across the Mauritanian wilderness en route to more traditional Black African stages in the Republic of Mali, before winding its way back through Mauritania and finally into Senegal. The traditional finish will take place beside Lac Rose, near Dakar, in Senegal on Sunday, January 21st.
There will be only limited GPS points made available to competitors, stages without GPS and Marathon stages where service assistance is not permitted. The organisers have also imposed stringent speed restrictions to improve the safety aspect of the event still further.