Dakar: Mitsubishi stage 13 report

Peterhansel hours ahead Oo Mitsubishi's nearest rival 'No risk' approach by Mitsubishi crews. The Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports crew of Stéphane Peterhansel and Jean-Paul Cottret hold a staggering two hour, 29 minute and 59 second lead over ...

Peterhansel hours ahead Oo Mitsubishi's nearest rival
'No risk' approach by Mitsubishi crews.

The Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports crew of Stéphane Peterhansel and Jean-Paul Cottret hold a staggering two hour, 29 minute and 59 second lead over Mitsubishi's nearest rival after today's leg of the 2004 Telefónica Dakar Rally. The French duo eased the pace and were eighth fastest in the stage, just adrift a team-mate Masuoka in seventh position. The Japanese Pajero / Montero Evolution driver remains in second position overall, underlining Mitsubishi's crushing overall performance this year, while Andrea Mayer, in the team's third car, maintains her sixth position.

There was also delight in the Nissan camp today when former World Rally Champion Colin McRae became only the second Scotsman in history to win a stage of the Dakar Rally. Former Mitsubishi driver and Ralliart Europe Chairman Andrew Cowan is the only other Scot to have achieved this feat 14 years ago, and McRae follows in his footsteps in his debut outing in the event.

Today's leg started in the early hours of the morning and returned to Mauritania for more of the notoriously long stages in this year's event. A 230 kilometer liaison section took the crews from Bamako to the start of a 478 competitive kilometer stage to Ayoûn el'Atroûs, in the far south of Mauritania. This new stage was fast and traversed beautiful sandy tracks, but correct use of the road book and GPS proved to be critical, ensuring a busy day for the co-drivers. A short 26 kilometer liaison section then took the crews into the overnight bivouac at Ayoûn el'Atroûs, in the heart of the western Hodh el Gharbi. This 'lost' town has all but been swallowed by desert, nestling amid a vast expanse of dunes and giving the feeling of an unknown place at the end of the world.

Despite easing the pace, Stéphane Peterhansel and Jean-Paul Cottret extended their advantage over Mitsubishi's nearest rival, Jean-Louis Schlesser, by more than 10 minutes, and just four special stages now stand between Peterhansel and the finish in Dakar. On the assumption the Pajero / Montero Evolution driver can maintain his position, he will become one of only two people to win the event on both two and four wheels and will claim an emphatic fourth consecutive victory for Mitsubishi.

"It was not at all easy today", said Peterhansel. "The stage was technical and we lost our way two or three times, but I took no risks today. It was slippery and there were many trees on the exits of the corners. I was running level with Schlesser about 80 kilometers from the end. We lost the road and I found the correct track quite quickly and did not see Schlesser again".

Masuoka and Gilles Picard also had little to gain from taking risks today, the Japanese/French pair seventh in the stage and now holding nearly ninety minutes in hand to third-placed Jean-Louis Schlesser.

"It was a very difficult stage", said Masuoka. "There was no room for one single mistake. The track was very narrow with a lot of trees. It was easy to slide into trouble, but I am very happy with the car. No problems at all".

Germany's Andrea Mayer and Andreas Schulz, driving the team's official Pajero / Montero, finished today's stage in 11th position, maintaining a fine sixth overall in their role as support crew to Peterhansel and Masuoka.

"It was good news all round for us today", commented Sven Quandt, MMSP's Head of Motorsport. "The next two days will be very tough, especially Friday to Nouakchott where there will be lots of dunes. We know what happened last year and we are keeping our fingers crossed. We have issued no team orders. We have just told our drivers that we expect the cars to reach the finish in one piece. That means that they can drive at their own sensible pace, but not take any risks".

Tomorrow's leg is another long one in Mauritania with a total of 552 kilometers to be covered, all of but four of which are competitive. Crews start the 548 kilometer competitive stage from the bivouac in Ayoûn el'Atroûs and head northwest back to Tidjikja over the most beautiful sand stage of the rally. Small isolated dunes at the start ultimately give way to huge expanses of sand and the highlight of the day will undoubtedly be the crossing of the gigantic dune which falls against the length of the 200 meter high Taskast cliff, the only route to the overnight halt.

Komornicki third fastest of all nine Mitsubishi crews

Klever Kolberg kept up his fine performance today in Mitsubishi Pajero / Montero customer machinery, the Brazilian setting 13th fastest in the stage to maintain his ninth position overall.

Mitsubishi Ralliart team-mate Dominique Housieaux also maintains his 10th position with 15th in the stage, while Nasser-Saleh Al-Attiyah has dropped to 12th overall having incurred a five minute speeding penalty in Bamako.

Thai driver Pornsawan Siriwattanakun enjoyed the return to the desert in his Mitsubishi L200 Strada and arrived at the bivouac this evening in 15th position overall. "The Black African stages were a little like racing in Thailand, but there was much more dust than we get at home", said the multiple Thai champion. "My car is running perfectly. I feel that we are on the home straight now and I can sense that Dakar is not far away!"

Poland's Lukasz Komornicki has climbed up the leaderboard into 19th having set 10th position in the stage, third fastest of all nine Mitsubishi crews.

Team Mitsubishi Ralliart China driver Luo Ding was classified 38th overall through today's special stage into Ayoûn el'Atroûs at 18.20 hrs (GMT) today. He and French co-driver Serge Henninot began today's stage in 61st position, as the Chinese bids to complete the Dakar Rally for the first time during his second attempt. Ding's Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero suffered slight damage yesterday, when he clouted a tree on the liaison section into Bamako.


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Series Dakar
Drivers Colin McRae , Jean-Louis Schlesser , Andreas Schulz , Stéphane Peterhansel , Jean-Paul Cottret , Gilles Picard , Klever Kolberg , Andrea Mayer , Luo Ding , Serge Henninot , Lukasz Komornicki , Dominique Housieaux