Stage Victory for Masuoka Peterhansel Leads Outright Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports took one step closer to realizing its dream when its two drivers Hiroshi Masuoka and StÃ©phane Peterhansel completed today's stage of the TelefÃ³nica Dakar Rally...
Stage Victory for Masuoka
Peterhansel Leads Outright
Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports took one step closer to realizing its dream when its two drivers Hiroshi Masuoka and Stéphane Peterhansel completed today's stage of the Telefónica Dakar Rally in first and second positions respectively.
The Mitsubishi Pajero / Montero Evolution crews have maintained their one-two formation at the top of the leaderboard with just 219 competitive kilometers remaining until the finish in Dakar on Sunday. Andrea Mayer, driving the team's official Pajero / Montero, holds fifth position.
Today's stage was the last of the real classics, but nothing can be taken for granted until the crews reach Dakar's final destination on Sunday. The crews left 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 required good navigation and care had to be taken around spiky camel grass that can rip tires to shreds in seconds. Having picked their way through 240 kilometers of this, crews then had to navigate the Amoukrouz dune field before a 70 kilometer liaison section took them to the overnight halt in the "Place of the Winds".
Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania, was founded in 1958 and is a modern and friendly town of 800,000 inhabitants, benefiting from a wharf and deep sea harbor.
Stéphane Peterhansel and co-driver Jean-Paul Cottret finished second in today's stage, nine minutes and 11 seconds adrift of team-mate and stage winner Hiroshi Masuoka. The fact that his lead has been cut to 55 minutes and 53 seconds is of little consequence; the Frenchmen are quite simply focused on maintaining an advantage and avoiding problems.
With just two stages of 192 and 27 kilometers remaining on Saturday and Sunday respectively, Peterhansel could well become only the second person in the history of the event to win on both two and four wheels and would reward Mitsubishi with a fourth consecutive Dakar Rally victory.
"Getting through today's stage without a major problem was the priority", said Peterhansel. "But it was a good stage for us. It was long and there were some areas of camel grass, some tricky dunes and fast sections, but Mitsubishi now has an even stronger position than this morning. Still, I will not even begin to think about the victory yet".
Team-mates Hiroshi Masuoka and Gilles Picard were fastest today and the Japanese/French pair is nearly two hours ahead of third-placed Jean-Louis Schlesser, the Buggy driver losing more than 30 minutes.
Once again, the Pajero / Montero Evolution is proving to be the class of the field, but the team is all too aware that the finish in Dakar is still 754 kilometers away.
"I am delighted with the result from today", said Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports' Team Director Dominique Serieys. "But there are still two days to go and one difficult stage. For sure, we are in a good position, but there has been quite a bit of heavy rain in the last few days and the stage on Saturday could be difficult. Patrick Zaniroli has admitted that there is some tricky navigation, so we will have to wait and see".
Germany's Andrea Mayer and Andreas Schulz are playing a fine support role to their team-mates and the Pajero / Montero crew were sixth in the stage to maintain fifth overall.
With all the long stages behind them and Dakar in sight, crews now just have two legs to negotiate and in fact arrive in the capital of Senegal tomorrow night for their last overnight halt. Tomorrow's leg, the penultimate, is a long one covering 648 kilometers, but just 192 kilometers is competitive over a partly new, fast and winding stage.
The sandy tracks take the bikes, cars and trucks to the Mauritania/Senegal border from where the 396 kilometer liaison section will guide them directly into Dakar on roads lined with cheering Senegalese.
AL-ATTIYAH LEADS MITSUBISHI RALLIART CUSTOMERS
Nasser-Saleh Al-Attiyah has taken over leadership of the Mitsubishi Ralliart customer drivers, the Qatari moving up into 10th position after today's stage and demonstrating that team spirit does pay off. Yesterday, the Pajero / Montero driver sacrificed his own performance by stopping to assist Grégoire de Mevius when he was stuck in soft sand.
"I stopped to help the BMW", said Al-Attiyah, who towed the Belgian onto firmer ground. "It was only a few minutes and you never know when you may need help yourself on these stages!"
Thai driver Pornsawan Siriwattanakun has also moved up the leaderboard, into 13th position, while team-mate Lukasz Komornicki is 14th.
Brazilian Klever Kolberg slipped to 10th yesterday, but the Pajero / Montero driver was lucky not to lose more time after suffering clutch problems. He has been running further down the field today and is now 11th overall. "We had a problem with the clutch", reflected the Brazilian. "Some sand must have found its way through a seal and caused the clutch to slip. I was forced to change gear without using the clutch. It cost me a lot of time".
Team Mitsubishi Ralliart China's Luo Ding started today's stage in 55th position. "I will not be too sad to see the back of the sand dunes", joked the Chinese driver.
Problems continue for Dominique Housieaux, the Frenchman seemingly stopped in the stage for unconfirmed reasons.