ALPHAND CLOSES THE GAP AS MITSUBISHI PAJERO / MONTERO EVOLUTIONS MAINTAIN POSITION The French Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart crew of Luc Alphand and Gilles Picard today closed the gap on leading team-mates StÃ©phane Peterhansel and Jean-Paul Cottret...
ALPHAND CLOSES THE GAP AS MITSUBISHI PAJERO / MONTERO EVOLUTIONS MAINTAIN POSITION
The French Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart crew of Luc Alphand and Gilles Picard today closed the gap on leading team-mates Stéphane Peterhansel and Jean-Paul Cottret after the 705 kilometer leg from Kayes to Bamako. The crews still hold the top two positions overall with the third Mitsubishi Pajero / Montero Evolution of Joan 'Nani' Roma and Henri Magne comfortable in fourth place.
Today's 231 kilometer special stage was again a very tricky one from both a driving and navigational point of view, and Peterhansel and Roma, starting first and second on the road, were among those to take the wrong direction early in the stage, losing around 19 minutes each.
Alphand began the day's stage 15th on the road after hitting a tree on Tuesday, and set the third fastest time in his Mitsubishi Pajero / Montero Evolution. The Frenchman finished six minutes and 3 seconds adrift of stage winner Giniel de Villiers, but only 30 seconds behind second-placed Bruno Saby.
"I made my mistake yesterday and there will be no more risks from my side over the next few days," said Alphand. "I think that Giniel has played his last joker with the speed he drove at today; I don't believe that is a safe pace if you want to reach Dakar. Tomorrow I will try and catch Bruno Saby's dust and then overtake if I can do so without taking any risks. But it could be an interesting day..."
Peterhansel, who now has a 25 minute lead over his fellow Mitsubishi driver said: "It was a bad day for us. There was a small track and we went the wrong way for four kilometers and then came back the wrong way for another four kilometers. Then we found the correct track, but we were in thick dust behind Carlos Sousa. I used the horn, but we followed him for over 120 kilometers. Luc started 15th today and had a good time, so maybe we will not lose too much in the dust tomorrow."
Spaniard Roma and co-driver Henri Magne also fell foul of a similar navigational mistake before the first passage control and arrived in Bamako with the 13th fastest time. But main rival Jutta Kleinschmidt crashed into a hole, cannoned into a tree, and damaged her steering and suspension, and Roma now finds himself in an unchallenged fourth place in the overall classification.
"I saw Stéphane's car and he took a track to the left so we followed," said Roma. "He doubled back and we followed and then he turned around again. I followed him for about six kilometers and then we realized our mistake. The road book was very vague and confusing. After that we were just driving in dust and it was too dangerous to take risks with overtaking."
Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart Team Director Dominique Serieys said: "We must congratulate Giniel de Villiers today on his great stage win. He proved that he is a very talented driver and a potential winner of the Dakar Rally in the future. Two of our drivers lost some time today, but we remain in a strong position and Stéphane and Luc will try to maintain a safe pace for the last few days."
Tomorrow's leg from Bamako to Labé in Guinea is a long 872 kilometers, including a rocky 368 kilometer competitive section where the vegetation will be thicker than ever and competitors will encounter deep river crossings. Even more daunting for the crews, however, is that tomorrow is the first part of a Marathon section and no service cars are allowed at the Labé bivouac. The only possibility to receive spare parts or assistance will be from one of the two Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart Team trucks that are entered in the actual competition.
"The Marathon sections mean it is very important for the co-driver to have some idea about the basic mechanics and technical aspects of the car in case we do have a problem," said Henri Magne. "Also, you need to be careful not to push too hard on a Marathon stage and risk having a problem. It places greater pressure on the crew. If something does go wrong we are only able to repair things with the tools we carry in the car. If it is something more serious then we will strip things down to save time and wait for the race trucks to arrive, often very late in the night."
Men's Dakar dream is over
Chinese Mitsubishi Ralliart driver Guan Yuan Men and French co-driver Serge Henninot dreams of reaching the finish line in Dakar on Sunday have been dashed. Following their earlier clutch problems the pair finally ran out of time yesterday and were excluded by officials.