Peterhansel upholds Mitsubishi honors Masuoka drops back with transmission problems. The all-French Mitsubishi Pajero / Montero Evolution crew of StÃ©phane Peterhansel and Jean-Paul Cottret powered through today's seventh special stage, setting...
Peterhansel upholds Mitsubishi honors
Masuoka drops back with transmission problems.
The all-French Mitsubishi Pajero / Montero Evolution crew of Stéphane Peterhansel and Jean-Paul Cottret powered through today's seventh special stage, setting fastest time to claim the lead of the 2004 Telefónica Dakar Rally by an impressive one hour, four minutes and 38 seconds. Team-mate Hiroshi Masuoka, who led going into today's leg, lost over an hour and a half with transmission problems and drops back to third position, while Andrea Mayer played a fine support role during a day that has dramatically split the field.
Today's eighth leg was comparatively short, and in fact the second shortest of the whole event, but still proved to be a dramatic one for many of the competitors. The route from Atâr to Tidjikja, in the Mauritanian wastelands, kicked off with a short 34 kilometer liaison section to the start of the 355 competitive kilometer marathon stage that took the crews straight into the overnight bivouac. Competitors faced a technical track never previously used in the Dakar that required precise navigation through breathtaking passes and over unavoidable ergs. For those competitors who have had two difficult days and little, if any, sleep, today's shorter leg should have been a welcome relief and the sight of Tidjikja, founded in the XVII century, will be a great reward. However, damage throughout the day will need to have been kept to a minimum, as no service assistance is required in the remote, windswept halt at Tidjikja.
Peterhansel is bidding to become only the second person in the 26-year history of the Dakar Rally to win on both two and four wheels, fellow countryman Hubert Auriol being the only one to win in both categories. Stage victory and a healthy overall lead have now put Peterhansel on the road to achieving this momentous goal.
"I am really happy to reach the bivouac with the fastest time today", he said. "It was a difficult day and a very tough stage. After 39 kilometers we lost the correct track a couple of times; the road book was not very clear and we needed to use the GPS. I had one flat tire, but I am pleased because I am now in a good position".
Team-mates Hiroshi Masuoka and Gilles Picard led the crews off the start line this morning and things were looking good for the Japanese/French pair until they incurred transmission problems 230 kilometers into the stage. Swirling sand reduced visibility for all the crews and the Japanese Mitsubishi Pajero / Montero Evolution driver, who has 23 Dakar stage wins to his name, dropped over 90 minutes with his problems. He arrived at the bivouac this evening in third position overall, one hour, 22 minutes and 32 seconds adrift of Peterhansel.
"We had a serious gearbox problem today", said Masuoka. "We lost first gear and it was very difficult in the slow technical sections of the stage. We should be able to repair it tonight though".
Andrea Mayer, driving the team's official Pajero / Montero, was delighted with her performance today, in the same stage where she suffered a back injury as a bike rider in the 1999 Dakar Rally. In their role as the team's support crew, the German, and former Dakar Rally-winning co-driver Andreas Schulz, only dropped one position in the overall standings, to seventh tonight, despite stopping with suspension problems early in the stage.
"After about 80 kilometers the front suspension mounting bracket broke and we had to stop and fix the problem as best we could", she said. "After that we had to drive very steadily to the finish of the stage".
There is little respite after today's action, as tomorrow poses an even greater challenge to the Telefónica Dakar Rally crews, especially those who were delayed with technical problems. All the team engineers and technicians went directly from Atâr to Néma, a 1,550 kilometer drive to the far south-east of Mauritania, where they will meet up with their drivers again tomorrow night. Left to their own mechanical devices this evening, many of the crews will doubtless spend hours re-fettling machinery, as Friday's leg may not be the longest, but the stage is; 736 competitive kilometers, from Tidjikja to Néma, through soft sand before reaching the inhospitable Well of Aratoue, the Rocher des Eléphants and the infamous Enji Pass, where nearly all the competitors were halted by a sandstorm in 1985. Magnificent landscape may compensate in some way, but there is no denying this is the hardest stage of the 2004 event.
HOUSIEAUX MAINTAINS FINE FORM
Al-Attiyah sixth in stage
Frenchman Dominique Housieaux and co-driver Loïc Fagot led the six remaining Mitsubishi Ralliart customer teams into Tidjikja this evening, the Pajero / Montero crew setting seventh place in the stage to climb from eighth to sixth overall, just 14 seconds ahead of Andrea Mayer.
"I said at the start in Clermont-Ferrand that the long stages through Mauritania would sort out the men from the boys", said the Frenchman. "That was certainly the case on the long stage yesterday. Several of the front-runners had major problems. It was a case of being a little lucky and staying out of trouble in the soft sand. I felt quite fresh at the start this morning".
Eleventh overall is held by Brazilian Klever Kolberg, the Pajero / Montero driver climbing another place up the leaderboard after setting the 13th fastest time in today's stage.
Early pace-setter Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah made an amazing come-back after a dramatic day of competition yesterday and was classified sixth in today's stage and has moved from 27th to 14th overall this evening. The Qatari began yesterday's stage in ninth position but wrecked the front suspension on his Pajero/Montero over a sand dune and was forced to wait for his assistance truck.
He lost over five hours awaiting emergency service and was classified 27th overall, more than five and a half hours behind the leaders. Without technical problems, the Qatari clearly knows how to read the sand!
Poland's Lukasz Komornicki, who finished 13th overall last night, has clearly hit problems during today's leg and has yet to arrive at the second passage control.
Thailand's Pornsawan Siriwattanakun overcame his dislike of sand dunes to bring his Mitsubishi L200 Strada to the start of today's stage in 19th position and Team Mitsubishi Ralliart China team-mate Luo Ding moved up to 60th overall last night.
Spaniard José-Luis Monterde and Rafael Tornabell were badly delayed before the second passage control into Atâr yesterday with engine-related problems and failed to restart this morning.