Dakar: Mitsubishi stage 7 report

Masuoka and Peterhansel streak ahead Japanese claims second stage victory Biasion into retirement The Japanese/French crew of Hiroshi Masuoka and Gilles Picard claimed a second successive stage victory in the 2004 Telefonica Dakar Rally, ...

Masuoka and Peterhansel streak ahead
Japanese claims second stage victory
Biasion into retirement

The Japanese/French crew of Hiroshi Masuoka and Gilles Picard claimed a second successive stage victory in the 2004 Telefonica Dakar Rally, beating Mitsubishi Pajero / Montero Evolution team-mate Stephane Peterhansel by five minutes and two seconds in today's sixth competitive section.

Masuoka, the defending Dakar Rally champion, therefore extends his lead, but Peterhansel's performance ensures Mitsubishi maintains a commanding one-two result and an extension of its lead over nearest rival Colin McRae, in the Nissan Pick-Up.

The Dakar Rally crews had the earliest start imaginable this morning with the leading cars - which run behind the bikes - leaving the bivouac at 03:05 hrs for a long and arduous day through the Western Sahara. Today's leg was the longest of the 2004 event, incorporating a total distance of 1,055 kilometers as the convoy moved from Morocco to the Islamic Republic of Mauritania.

A 345 kilometer liaison section, across the border, took the crews to the start of the 701 competitive kilometer stage that headed south to Atâr. The second longest stage of the event kicked off with fast and furious action but then headed to the vast rolling dunes and the daunting Erg Oumaghawaba, the only route into Atâr, a town founded in the XVII century by a Chinguetti tribe.

Masuoka took command from the outset, but Peterhansel overhauled the Japanese driver 450 kilometers into the stage, an advantage soon lost when he and co-driver Jean-Paul Cottret lost their way for over nine minutes. As a consequence, they also dropped behind South Africa's Giniel de Villiers (Nissan), but ultimately managed to regain second position by the end of the section.

Despite finishing five minutes and two seconds adrift of Masuoka, both Mitsubishi Pajero / Montero Evolutions were in a league of their own, third-placed Jean-Louis Schlesser nearly 21 minutes adrift in the stage and Colin McRae 41 minutes and 29 seconds down, in third position in the overall standings.

Masuoka was content with his performance into Atâr. "I did not intend to push over the last two days, because over the rocky stages it is too easy to collect a puncture", he said. "I had no problem with starting first on the road into Mauritania today. I like Mauritania very much. The car is working perfectly at the moment".

Adding to his comments, Stephane Peterhansel said: "Yesterday we had a slow puncture; it was annoying because I cannot remember hitting anything. Normally it takes Jean-Paul (Cottret) and I about four minutes to change the wheel, but we had a problem with the jack and lost about seven minutes altogether. But I am not too unhappy. We had no other problems and a clean run through the rest of the stage".

Germany's lady driver, Andrea Mayer, and co-driver Andreas Schultz, began the day in 10th position in their Pajero / Montero and have climbed to sixth overnight after setting the same position in today's long stage - their best performance so far this year.

"Miki" Biasion was forced into retirement after rolling Mitsubishi's third Pajero / Montero Evolution yesterday. The former World Rally Champion made it to the bivouac late last night, but today - his 46th birthday - the Italian was unable to re-start, such was the extent of the damage to the car.

"I am very disappointed", he said. "It was a freak accident. The car dug into a hole, flipped up on to its nose and we went into a series of rolls. It was too badly damaged to repair in time to start this morning. I must think about my team-mates and make sure that they have the best support available at all times".

"It was unfortunate that we lost "Miki" yesterday", added Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports Team Director Dominique Serieys. "But it was another successful day for Hiroshi and Stephane. They have extended their advantage for Mitsubishi on what was a very difficult stage".

After such a mammoth day, tomorrow's eighth leg is comparatively short, and in fact the second shortest of the whole event. The route from Atâr to Tidjikja, in the Mauritanian wastelands, kicks off with a short 34 kilometer liaison section to the start of a 355 kilometer competitive stage that takes the crews straight into the overnight bivouac. Competitors face a technical track never previously used in the Dakar that requires careful navigation through breathtaking passes and over unavoidable ergs. "This could turn out to be one of the hardest stages of the entire race", warned Masuoka's co-driver Gilles Picard.

AL-ATTIYAH HITS TROUBLE IN LONGEST STAGE OF HIS RALLY CAREER
Komornicki back on track
Monterde badly delayed

Pajero / Montero driver Nasser-Saleh Al-Attiyah began the longest stage of his rally career in ninth position but hit problems and has slipped down the leaderboard for unconfirmed reasons.

The reigning Middle East Rally Champion has however been highly impressed by the enormity of organization surrounding this epic event. "I have been so impressed by this rally", said the Qatari. "The scale of the organization, the logistics; it is so impressive".

Dominique Housieaux has now taken over leadership of the Mitsubishi Ralliart customer teams, the Frenchman setting a highly-impressive eighth fastest time in T1 Pajero / Montero machinery to climb from 15th to 8th this evening. "For me this is where the real meat of this year's Dakar Rally began", said Housieaux.

Mitsubishi Ralliart mechanics changed the battery on team-mate Klever Kolberg's Pajero / Montero prior to the stage start today, and the Brazilian powered through the stage to set tenth fastest time. He also climbs four positions up the leaderboard into 12th overall.

Poland's Lukasz Komornicki began the section in a positive frame of mind after losing over 25 minutes into Tan-Tan last night. "I was running well into Tan-Tan and then we lost the rear left-hand wheel", said the Pole. "The wheel studs had completely sheared off. We had to drill out the old nuts and fit a new wheel. It was so frustrating and I dropped two places as a result". The Pole was ninth in today's stage and now holds 13th overall in another Pajero / Montero

Spaniard Jose-Luis Monterde began the stage in 17th with a new gearbox fitted to his Mitsubishi Pajero / Montero. "We had a small oil leak on the stage into Tan-Tan yesterday and decided to change the gearbox as a precaution," he said. "This was going to be a very long stage and we could leave nothing to chance". The Spaniard then lost two hours before the second passage control today, for unconfirmed reasons, and was forced to wait for his assistance truck.

Thailand's Pornsawan Siriwattanakun started the day buoyed by his climb into 26th position last night. "The car is running fine", said the Thai. "I must admit that I prefer the rocky stages to racing in the sand though. But this is the Dakar and there is a lot of sand!"

Team Mitsubishi Ralliart China's Luo Ding started this morning's stage from the rear of the field, after arriving late into Tan-Tan. He and French co-driver Serge Henninot had little opportunity for sleep before embarking upon the 1,055 kilometer section to Atâr.

-mitsubishi-

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About this article
Series Dakar
Drivers Colin McRae , Jean-Louis Schlesser , Hiroshi Masuoka , Stéphane Peterhansel , Jean-Paul Cottret , Gilles Picard , Giniel de Villiers , Andrea Mayer , Jose Luis Monterde , Luo Ding , Serge Henninot , Lukasz Komornicki , Dominique Housieaux