Mitsubishi consolidates Dakar Rally lead. With only two days to go in the 25th edition of the Dakar Rally, today's 15th stage saw French duo of StÃ©phane Peterhansel and Jean-Paul Cottret, driving the nÂ° 206 Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution / ...
Mitsubishi consolidates Dakar Rally lead.
With only two days to go in the 25th edition of the Dakar Rally, today's 15th stage saw French duo of St?phane Peterhansel and Jean-Paul Cottret, driving the n° 206 Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution / Montero Evolution, maintain their comfortable lead over their team-mates and nearest rivals, Hiroshi Masuoka and Andreas Schulz. Mitsubishi Motors Team cars are still occupying the top five positions in the overall classification, with the first non-Mitsubishi contestant, Giniel de Villiers in a Nissan Pickup, in sixth place, over three hours behind Peterhansel.
Today's stage took the Dakar caravan from Luxor to Abu Rish, including a 477 km special stage, which was won by the Nissan Pickup of Ari Vatanen - his third stage win - ahead of the Mitsubishi Pajero / Montero of "Miki" Biasion. Although the track was relatively well marked, with alternating sand and gravel sections, there were few reliable landmarks and plenty of changes of direction, going from one canyon to another near-identical one.
To make it more of a challenge, this was the second stage of the rally to be run without the all-important Global Positioning System, placing more pressure on the co-drivers to find the way to Abu Rish, penultimate bivouac of the rally.
With a good lead over the rest of the field, and the end of the epic race in sight, Mitsubishi had advised its two leading drivers to preserve their cars, preventing Peterhansel and Masuoka from competing against each other and thereby risking their first and second positions.
"One more long stage to go", said Peterhansel afterwards. "I am happy because it was a difficult stage today, especially without GPS. I had no problems, but I was a little nervous. Yesterday we heard some worrying noises from the car, but it was fine today. I will try and sleep for at least four hours before we start again tomorrow morning". Peterhansel finished the stage in sixth place, close behind Masuoka, who was fifth.
Jean-Pierre Fontenay, driving the n° 202 Mitsubishi Pajero / Montero, finished today's stage in fourth place; he is still maintaining his third place in the overall classification, behind the two Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution / Montero Evolution cars. However, the 1998 Dakar winner sustained two flat tyres today, 200 km into the stage.
"We had two punctures on the left-hand side", said Fontenay. "We changed the rear wheel, but when we started again, we saw that the front tyre was also going down, so we had to stop again. It was a very fast stage at the beginning, and quite tricky without the GPS. The first 100 kilometres were okay, but then it was dusty and twisty, with some big canyons. We will work on the road book now and try and get as much rest as possible before tomorrow' early start".
Italy's "Miki" Biasion, tackling his first Dakar in a car, was second quickest through today's stage and strengthened his grip on fourth place in the n° 207 Mitsubishi Pajero / Montero. He is now only 6m 38s behind Fontenay. "I am happy with today because we had no problems and no punctures", said Biasion. "St?phane and Hiroshi have slowed down to hold their positions, but I think we are too far behind Jean-Pierre to catch him now. I will drive at my own pace. It is important that we don't have any problems".
Although the top four positions are relatively secure, fifth-placed Portuguese driver Carlos Sousa is coming under pressure from the Nissan Pickup driven by Giniel de Villiers. Sousa began the 15th stage with a lead of 17 minutes over of the former South African Touring Car champion, but after today's stage, his lead was reduced to 5 minutes and 32 seconds.
Tenth-placed Jos?-Luis Monterde is still leading the privateers' category in his Ralliart-prepared Mitsubishi Pajero / Montero, but the reigning Spanish Off-Road Champion slipped further behind Frenchman Luc Alphand in his quest to win the Super Production diesel class. Brazilian Klever Kolberg continues to lead the Total Trophy for Amateur drivers.
Tomorrow is the penultimate stage of this year's event and the last of the longer sections. After a compulsory rest, the teams will leave Abu Rish, starting from 04.00 hrs. After a tiring 413 km of liaison along the coastline of the Gulf of Suez, the 365-km special stage will start at Abu Zenima. The competitors will cross the Sinai massif, with narrow cols and scenic valleys, with the finish point 50 km from Sharm El Sheikh, adjacent to the Red Sea.