Mitsubishi Pajero / Montero Evolution Drivers Cruise, But Extend Their Advantage! Roma leads the Mitsubishi crews through to Tambacounda Peterhansel and Alphand claim hours to their rivals Joan 'Nani' Roma and Henri Magne led the trio of ...
Mitsubishi Pajero / Montero Evolution Drivers Cruise, But Extend Their Advantage!
Roma leads the Mitsubishi crews through to Tambacounda
Peterhansel and Alphand claim hours to their rivals
Joan 'Nani' Roma and Henri Magne led the trio of Mitsubishi Pajero / Montero Evolutions through today's 14th leg of the Telefónica Dakar Rally, the Spanish/French pairing beating their previous best performance on four wheels to finish fourth behind stage winner Ari Vatanen. Mitsubishi Motors Repsol ATS Studios team-mates Luc Alphand and Stéphane Peterhansel finished seventh and eighth respectively as they cruise towards Dakar and the finish of this marathon rally.
The two are now clearly in a league of their own at the head of the leaderboard. Peterhansel has 26 minutes and 41 seconds in hand to second-placed Alphand, who is now nearly three hours ahead of the delayed Jutta Kleinschmidt in third.
Today's leg started from yesterday's stage finish in Sadiola, Mali, and headed south-west along the Senegalese border for the penultimate long stage of this year's Dakar. A 93 kilometer liaison took the remaining 217 crews from Kayes to the start of the 529 competitive kilometer section to Tambacounda. En route, narrow tracks led into savannah landscape and the crossing of the Falémé River, a historical spot as it heralds the arrival of the rally into Senegal. A short eight kilometers later, the crews arrived at the overnight bivouac.
Peterhansel and co-driver Jean-Paul Cottret - winners of yesterday's stage - led the crews off from Kayes this morning. In contrast to their performance over the last 13 days, the Pajero / Montero Evolution pair cruised through today's stage, happy to drop behind rivals as they err on the side of caution within sight of Dakar and a historic victory. They finished the stage in eighth position but, due to Jutta Kleinschmidt dropping more than two hours in the stage, the Frenchmen extend their overall lead to the German Volkswagen driver.
"I am happy to be here", said Peterhansel. "We took the necessary precautions with the snorkel for the river crossing and controlled the stage today. The Nissans passed us and we drove slowly to the end of the stage. Tomorrow is not a long day. I know the stage well and hopefully it will not be a problem".
French team-mates Luc Alphand and Gilles Picard adopted the same strategy but finished one place ahead of Peterhansel, in seventh.
"We feel confident", said Alphand. "We changed the pace and took it easy today. On the sports side I cannot take 26 minutes out of Stéphane, so we have to manage both cars to reach the finish for Mitsubishi. Today was like a Tour de France stage. We were protecting the leader in the 'yellow jersey' and the others were playing around. Vatanen and De Villiers passed us early, but we managed the car well without problems".
"River crossings are always a worry. We stopped to use the snorkel. Stéphane went first, very slowly, but the water level was okay - only about 60 centimeters. The ground was hard and then we stopped to check the wheel nuts. The rest of the stage was like a dusty train..."
Joan 'Nani' Roma and Andorra-based co-driver Henri Magne set the pace of the Pajero / Montero Evolutions today and claimed fourth fastest time through the stage. They maintain their sixth position overall with just two legs remaining.
"I am very happy with today's result", said the Spaniard. "I drove 'cool' with no risks. I stopped before the river to use the snorkel and then to check the wheel nuts the other side, because the change of temperature can loosen the wheels. Then we followed Jutta (Kleinschmidt) slowly. Tomorrow is an important day. It will not be easy and it is important that we make no mistakes. For sure, I will wait for Luc and Stéphane and follow them to the finish".
Adding to the drivers' comments, Team Director Dominique Serieys said: "I asked both Stéphane and Luc to be careful over the final 700 kilometers. With the same cars and a similar driving level, I asked them to keep the difference between them and not to push.
"Mitsubishi Motors needs them to reach the finish in first and second positions and they respected that decision to drive carefully".
Tomorrow, 108 kilometers of liaison takes the remaining contenders from Tambacounda to the start of the penultimate competitive section of the 2005 Dakar Rally. From here, 225 kilometers of competition lay in wait en route to Dakar. Leaving tropical forests behind and moving into savannah landscape, landmarks will be difficult to find and expert driving and navigation skills will be called for. The final 236 kilometer liaison then takes the crews to their long-awaited arrival in Dakar and, for the first time since early New Year, a hotel bed!
Kolberg claims sixth in the stage in his Pajero / Montero
The Brazilian Pajero / Montero crew of Klever Kolberg and Roldan Lourival powered through today's stage to finish sixth, just two places adrift of Joan 'Nani' Roma in Mitsubishi's Evolution machinery. Boosting their chances of finishing inside the top 10, the pair completed the stage more than five minutes ahead of Portugal's defending FIA European Baja Cup champion Carlos Sousa.
"I am delighted with my position today", said Kolberg. "It was very dangerous. We nearly had a big accident in a large hole where there has been a lot of rain. We were kicked around like a pinball in the car. I was not pushing today. I passed (José-Luis) Monterde after 150 kilometers, but there was so much dust it was impossible to pass any more cars and bikes".
The French duo of Dominique Housieaux and Loïc Fagot were stopped awaiting assistance with a broken wishbone at the second passage control, but Poland's Krzysztof Holowczyc and Belgian co-driver Jean-Marc Fortin finished the stage in 12th position.
"I was quite happy to drive carefully today", said Pajero / Montero driver Holowczyc. "I am tired, the team is tired and the objective is to reach Dakar. The stages now are more like world rally stages and they are better for me. But some of the holes and rocks would never be accepted on the WRC and you have to appreciate that one such hole or rock could wreck your chance of reaching Dakar".