DAKAR (Senegal): Italian Fabrizio Meoni, Japan's Hiroshi Masuoka and the Russian Vladimir Tchaguine finally clinched victories in their respective bike, car and truck categories, when the 24th Total Arras-Madrid-Dakar Rally drew to a close after a...
DAKAR (Senegal): Italian Fabrizio Meoni, Japan's Hiroshi Masuoka and the Russian Vladimir Tchaguine finally clinched victories in their respective bike, car and truck categories, when the 24th Total Arras-Madrid-Dakar Rally drew to a close after a 30-kms stage around Lac Rose, near Dakar. Stage wins today fell to Italian rider Giovanni Sala, Belgian Gregoire de Mevius and Brazilian Andre De Azevedo. It was Sala's second stage win of the race and the fourth for the new KTM LC8.
Meoni, 43, was understandably delighted to have taken the new, more powerful 'twin' to Dakar victory on its debut: 'Because this win was taken with the new bike, it is sweeter for me than the one last year.' Nearly 48 minutes behind Meoni, South African Alfie Cox took a career-best second place and twice former winner Richard Sainct was third. 'I saw what happened to some of the other riders late in the race and I was a little nervous this morning,' admitted Cox. 'I feel sad for Roma. But this is a trait of the Dakar, only the strongest survive..'
Telefonica team mates Carlo de Gavardo and Esteve Isidre Pujol completed the top five and today's stage winner Giovanni Sala was sixth overall. Stage wins were spread among the KTM contingent, with De Gavardo (3) Meoni (2), Cox (2), Sala (2), joining single stage winners Bernardo Vilar, Joan Roma, Pierre Quinonero, Richard Sainct, Kari Tiainen and Jordi Arcarons in the Dakar history books.
Austrian-built bikes filled the top 11 places, with Japan's Jun Mitsuhashi on a Honda, the first non-KTM in 12th overall. Portugal's 10th-placed Paulo Manuel Marques won the over-400cc Production category, while 24th-placed Frenchman Stephane Sacchettini (Honda) and 43rd-placed Brazilian Luiz Mingione (Honda) clinched the smaller-capacity Super Production classes
Masuoka was able to put last year's agony firmly behind him, as he and Kleinschmidt, the outgoing champion, crossed the finish line at Lac Rose in a triumphant convoy. The Japanese had led from the first Moroccan stage on New Year's Day and mechanical problems, flat tyres and navigational delays dictated that he always stayed ahead of his team mates. He is the second Japanese driver to win the race, following in the footsteps of Kenjiro Shinozuka's success in 1997.
'At the beginning I had a problem with the language,' said a delighted winner. 'I needed French to talk to the mechanics. For two and a half years I worked at a garage with the mechanics. I was very hungry and worked very hard. So now I am so happy to win Dakar. I am top of the world. Mr. Brehmer (Ulrich Brehmer was the team manager for Mitsubishi who passed away earlier this year) looks down over me. He helped my programme at the start and I'm sure he is watching now.'
Kleinschmidt took two stage wins, Shinozuka and Fontenay a win apiece, but Masuoka's five victories were ultimately the difference. Spaniard Fernando Gil collected two wins in Europe and Nissan's Stephane Peterhansel won a solitary stage in Morocco to add to team mate De Mevius's hat-trick in the second Pick-Up. The statistics equate to nine wins for Mitsubishi, four for Nissan and two for Seat.
'We had problems with the transmission during the race and I am happy with second place under the circumstances,' said Jutta. 'For sure, we will come back next year and try and take a second win on the Dakar. I am pleased for Hiroshi and for the team.'
Mitsubishis filled nine of the top 10 places overall, with the four factory Pajeros of Masuoka, Kleinschmidt, Shinozuka and Fontenay in the top four. Qatar's Saeed Al-Hajri capped a superb debut Dakar performance by sharing third through the stage today with closest rival Carlos Sousa, the pair finishing sixth and fifth overall.
Frenchman Luc Alphand completed his first Dakar and duly clinched the Super Production diesel category in his seventh-placed Pajero, while fellow countryman Jean-Jacques Ratet's diesel-engined Toyota Landcruiser snatched victory in the Production class on the penultimate stage, when long-term leader Thierry de Lavergne lost time with wheel bearing problems. Lavergne's consolation was a win in the petrol category.
Tchaguine duly clinched his third Dakar victory for Kamaz, and his second as a driver, by the massive winning margin of 4h 23m. The Russian won seven of the 13 special stages tackled by the Trucks. Czech Tatra driver Karel Loprais finished second overall - taking a single stage win - and Japanese veteran Yoshimasa Sugawara was third in a less powerful Hino Ranger, winning the four-wheel drive section into the bargain. De Azevedo (Tatra - 3), Jan de Rooy (DAF - 1) and Corrado Pattano (Mercedes - 1) shared the remaining stage wins.
Frenchman Franck Dupuy-Gardel won the Improved Production category for trucks with six to eight wheels in a in a Mercedes Unimog.