Dakar: Mitsubishi stage 14 report

Mitsubishi First, Second & Fifth With Three Days To Go The Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports crew of Stéphane Peterhansel and Jean-Paul Cottret once again extended their lead in today's leg of the Telefónica Dakar Rally. The all-French Pajero /...

Mitsubishi First, Second & Fifth With Three Days To Go

The Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports crew of Stéphane Peterhansel and Jean-Paul Cottret once again extended their lead in today's leg of the Telefónica Dakar Rally. The all-French Pajero / Montero Evolution drivers were third in the stage and now hold a two hour, 31 minute 44 second advantage over Mitsubishi's nearest rival in third position. Team-mate Hiroshi Masuoka was fifth in the stage to maintain Mitsubishi's one-two in the overall standings, while Germany's Andrea Mayer has climbed to a fine fifth.

Today's leg was another long one in Mauritania with a total of 552 kilometers covered, all but four of which were competitive. Crews started the 548 kilometer marathon stage from the bivouac in Ayoûn el'Atroûs and headed northwest back to Tidjikja over the most beautiful stage of the rally. But it was all about sand, sand and more sand, making it technical and tactical and an enormous test for the drivers and navigators. Small isolated dunes at the start ultimately gave way to vast expanses of sand, the highlight of the day being the crossing of the gigantic dune which falls against the length of the 200 meter high Taskast cliff, the only route into the overnight halt.

Peterhansel, who is totally focused on getting his Pajero / Montero Evolution to Dakar without problems, held second position through the second passage control today, but the rally leader lost the correct track and was ultimately placed third, 18 minutes and 30 seconds behind stage winner Luc Alphand (BMW X5).

"The stage started very fast this morning, but we lost the correct track after 150 kilometers", said Peterhansel. "We drove with Hiroshi and (Grégoire) de Mevius for a time until we regained the track. It was a technical stage, with camel grass and some dunes.

"We had no problems, but I will not even think about the win until we see the Pink Lake in Dakar," added the multiple Dakar Rally bike winner. "I remember the pain I felt last year when I had the problem. There are three stages to go. On Saturday there are sections of 'chott' and this could be very difficult".

Hiroshi Masuoka and Gilles Picard, piloting the team's second Pajero / Montero Evolution, were placed fifth in the stage after stopping to change a flat tire before the first passage control.

"I had my first flat tire on the entire rally today", said Masuoka. "It was a right front flat. We then lost our way with Stéphane, but then I drove steadily. Tomorrow is my last chance to pass him, but I know it is not possible. Even if I drove maximum it would be impossible to catch him, so I will be sensible".

The official Mitsubishi Pajero / Montero driven by Germany's Andrea Mayer and Andreas Schulz has now moved up into fifth position. Good driving and navigation, combined with the fact that de Mevius also lost time with mechanical problems, saw Mitsubishi's support crew set eighth fastest time and overhaul the Belgian BMW driver.

"It was a good day for me with easy navigation and the stage was not difficult to drive", said Andrea at the bivouac this evening.

Adding to the drivers' comments, Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports Team Director Dominique Serieys said: "It was a long day again, but we had no major problems. We will wait for the racing trucks and then check the cars this evening. Both Hiroshi and Stéphane have a measure of the competition and drove slowly today. It may get slightly easier after tomorrow, but we will not even think about Sunday until we are in Dakar".

The sea of sand may well be as good as behind the Telefónica Dakar Rally competitors, but it is still no cruise to the finish on Sunday. Tomorrow's leg is the last of the classic African stages but awash with treacherous and notorious camel grass which "can throw up all sorts of problems", stated Peterhansel's co-driver Jean-Paul Cottret. The crews leave the Tidjikja bivouac for a 652 kilometer journey directly west to Nouakchott, on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, covering a 579 competitive kilometer stage in the process. The section requires good navigation and care needs to be taken around the spiky camel grass that can rip tires to shreds in seconds. Having picked their way through 200 kilometers of this, crews will then need to navigate the Amoukrouz dune field before reaching the overnight halt in the "Place of the Winds".

Housieaux drops time

Klever Kolberg still leads the Mitsubishi Ralliart customer team assault, although the Brazilian Pajero / Montero driver dropped into 10th position today, overhauled by Nissan's Giniel de Villiers. "My plan was to push as hard as possible today without taking any risks", he said. "Tidjikja is not my favorite place and I am glad that we are getting closer to Dakar. My best position in a car on this race is eighth two years ago and I would like to beat that if possible".

Nasser-Saleh Al-Attiyah has once again set a good pace, the newly-crowned FIA Middle East Rally Champion setting 10th fastest time in the stage to move into 11th position overall in another Pajero / Montero. "We lost our way a couple of times into Ayoûn and had a low speed coming-together with Klever, but nothing serious", commented Nasser of his exploits.

Dominique Housieaux started the day in 10th position, but the Frenchman dropped a couple of hours for unconfirmed reasons in the early part of today's stage. He has slipped to 12th overall.

Thai driver Pornsawan Siriwattanakun is stil in 15th position, his L200 Strada having been fitted with a new battery before today's stage, while team-mate Lukasz Komornicki is 17th, with a new differential.

Team Mitsubishi Ralliart China's Luo Ding and French co-driver Serge Henninot achieved their best performance of the event into Ayoûn in the sixth of the Mitsubishi Ralliart customer cars. They were 38th through the stage.

"Over a three-day period last week I slept for no more than about six hours", said Ding. "I felt okay. I just knew that I had to keep going. I hate the dunes though. My car has a diesel engine and a long wheelbase and is better suited to the faster sections than the areas of soft sand. I feel quite fresh considering all we have done since the start. It was a bit frantic on the stage into Ayoûn yesterday, but I passed several cars and was confident that I could push again on the Tidjikja stage today.

"I was so disappointed to retire from the race last year with an oil pump problem on the final Libyan stage. That made me more determined to do well this time," added the Chinaman. "I have undergone instruction from Mitsubishi's test driver Jean-Pierre Fontenay and he told me many useful things and gave me a lot of advice before I left for this race. Now I have to put that into practice over the closing stages".

Commenting on the performance of the customer drivers, Mitsubishi Ralliart customer team manager Jurgen Masal said: "Today's stage was always going to be difficult. Several of our cars lost their wing mirrors after minor collisions on Wednesday, but there was nothing too serious. Today was a marathon stage, so the drivers knew they would need to be careful and not take risks because there is no service assistance in Tidjikja tonight".

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About this article
Series Dakar
Drivers Hiroshi Masuoka , Andreas Schulz , Stéphane Peterhansel , Jean-Paul Cottret , Jean-Pierre Fontenay , Gilles Picard , Giniel de Villiers , Klever Kolberg , Andrea Mayer , Luo Ding , Lukasz Komornicki , Dominique Housieaux