Masuoka fastest, but Peterhansel leads for Mitsubishi A long day... and a re-route to come The Mitsubishi Pajero / Montero Evolution crew of Hiroshi Masuoka and Gilles Picard powered through the longest stage of the 2004 TelefÃ³nica Dakar ...
Masuoka fastest, but Peterhansel leads for Mitsubishi
A long day... and a re-route to come
The Mitsubishi Pajero / Montero Evolution crew of Hiroshi Masuoka and Gilles Picard powered through the longest stage of the 2004 Telefónica Dakar Rally, setting fastest time by 18 minutes and 32 seconds over the mammoth 736 kilometer stage. The Japanese driver may have narrowed the deficit to team-mate Stéphane Peterhansel, but the Frenchman, who finished the hardest stage of the event in second position, still leads for Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports. Grégoire de Mevius - who started the day second overall in the BMW X5 - has lost his position in the leaderboard to Masuoka, putting Mitsubishi back into its previous one-two formation.
Today's leg may not have been the longest of this year's event, but the competitive stage was. Without their assistance trucks last night, many of the crews who incurred technical problems yesterday worked late into the night repairing their own machinery and today's longest stage will not only have proved to be a telling one, but also an arduous day of competition for weary souls. Already, fifty percent of the original field of 400 has dropped out and of the 142 cars that started on January 1, just 75 were authorized to leave the bivouac this morning.
Departing Tidjikja, a short three kilometer liaison section took the crews to the start of the massive 736 competitive kilometer stage that took them directly into the bivouac at Néma very late this evening. For the Dakar veterans, it is a legendary stage, but fewer GPS reference points than in the past added to what was already an immense challenge. After stretches of fast but soft sand, the crews reached 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. After the hardest stage of the whole event, just the sight of the traditional town of Néma, capital of Hodh Ech Chargui, will be reward enough, yet many are still sure to spend the night in the vast, silent and dark desert.
Hiroshi Masuoka had slipped to third position on yesterday's stage after gearbox problems, but the defending Dakar champion led today's grueling stage at the third passage control and maintained his advantage arriving into a windswept Néma. Currently, with Grégoire de Mevius‡ problems, the Japanese driver climbs back into second position, one hour and four minutes adrift of the lead.
Andrea Mayer and co-driver Andreas Schultz had little respite last night. The pair broke the suspension on their Pajero / Montero yesterday and welding and repairs went on through the night. Schultz, an accomplished mechanic, finally made it to his tent at 04:00 hrs, just in time to catch a couple of hours sleep before embarking on today's longest stage.
"We didn't get much chance to sleep last night", confirmed Schulz. "But this is the Dakar and there are bound to be eventualities where you have to account for these problems. I worked on the car until after four this morning!"
Tomorrow, the crews were scheduled to leave Mauritania for a leg that took them to Mali and a stage that ran through both countries. However, late this evening the organizers announced the cancellation of both the Néma-Mopti stage (Saturday) and Sunday's stage from Mopti to Bobo-Dioulasso, in Burkina Faso, for security reasons. Some crews have spent days and nights out in the north-west African deserts and this, combined with information received by both the French and Mali authorities about potential bandit activity, left the organizers with no alternative but to annul the legs to ensure the safety of all personnel.
Tomorrow, therefore, the Dakar Rally convoy will head directly and non-competitively from its overnight halt in Néma to Bamako, in Mali, before arriving in Bobo-Dioulasso, in Burkina Faso, on Sunday evening. The rest day will take place there as planned, on Monday, and the entire rally will resume, competitively, on Tuesday. That leg, from Bobo-Dioulasso back to Bamako, covers a total distance of 666 kilometers, 213 of which is competitive.
RALLIART CREWS REFLECT...
Al-Attiyah looks set to outpace Dakar veterans
Frenchman Dominique Housieaux began today's special stage in a fine sixth place in the overall standings in his Mitsubishi Pajero / Montero. He and Loïc Fagot had been classified seventh on the section into Tidjikja yesterday.
"It was a good day for us", said the delighted Frenchman. "No real problems at all, just a case of persevering and taking no risks".
Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah bounced back from earlier delays and was sixth in the stage to hold 14th going into the start of today's stage. The Qatari also looks to have had an impressive run in the long stage today; he was the seventh car to arrive at the bivouac and has clearly overtaken a number of crews along the way.
"This is a fantastic rally", said the Qatari debutant last night. "I have been so impressed with the scale of the organization and the fact that the organizers can feed between 2000 and 3000 people each day over great distances without any delays. The race is much harder than I expected. It was a real marathon stage over the last two days. But I prepared well for this race. I went jogging and did a lot of swimming in Qatar before coming to Europe, so I still feel physically fit".
Mitsubishi Ralliart team mates Lukasz Komornicki, Pornsawan Siriwattanakun and Klever Kolberg were also running well, but Team Mitsubishi Ralliart China entrant Luo Ding stayed within his time limit by the skin of his teeth this morning. He and French co-driver Serge Henninot arrived in the Tidjikja bivouac at around 08.00 GMT, a little over two hours before the restart.