Victory for Masuoka. Pajero Evolutions / Montero Evolutions pull ahead of rivals; Five Mitsubishis in top 10. Japan's Hiroshi Masuoka, co-driven by German Andreas Schultz, took victory on today 497 kilometre stage from Ghat to Sabha, cementing...
Victory for Masuoka.
Pajero Evolutions / Montero Evolutions pull ahead of rivals; Five Mitsubishis in top 10.
Japan's Hiroshi Masuoka, co-driven by German Andreas Schultz, took victory on today 497 kilometre stage from Ghat to Sabha, cementing a fourth successive one-two finish for Mitsubishi Motors in this year's Telef?nica Dakar Rally. The Pajero Evolution / Montero Evolution crew finished five minutes 42 seconds ahead of team-mate and six-time bike winner St?phane Peterhansel. Mitsubishi Motors drivers now hold first, second, eighth and ninth, with Portugal's Carlos Sousa a fine seventh overall in his Mitsubishi L200 Strakar.
After a cold night under canvas in Ghat, surrounded by the distant ridges of the Jebel Akakus mountains to the east and the striking peaks of the Tassili-n-Ajjer in Algeria to the west, the competitors faced another long day covering 727 kilometres in total. The 497 kilometre stage from Ghat to Sabha is considered to be one of the best in the 2003 Telef?nica Dakar Rally and probably one of the most difficult in the history of the event. From Ghat, the route moved south before switching to a northeasterly direction, up through the Jebel Akakus mountain range and over spectacular giant dunes. One hundred kilometres into the stage the crews crossed the Murzuk Erg, renowned for its giant 'waves' of virtually impassable sand. At the end of the stage, a 181 kilometre liaison section took the crews to Sabha, a mineral rich area boasting one of the largest camel markets of the Sahara region. It is also one of the most arid places on earth and for centuries the vast deserts of southern Libya formed a barrier crossed only by caravan trade routes which followed established tracks from oasis to oasis. Since 1953 however, research has led to the discovery of large oil reservoirs and great quantities of fresh water.
Hiroshi Masuoka maintains his second position in the overall standings after a fine and faultless drive through the spectacular stage. The Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution / Montero Evolution has once again shown its superiority as, behind both him and team-mate Peterhansel, the closest contender was the classic Mitsubishi Pajero / Montero of Jean-Pierre Fontenay, third on the stage. In the overall standings, Masuoka now has more than one hour in hand to third-placed Gregoire de Mevius in the BMW X5.
"Yesterday was not a good day, but today was fine for me", said a delighted Hiroshi. "There was not as much pressure; this was not a marathon stage and I could drive harder. It was beautiful and I must thank the organisers for this stage. The big dunes, the mountains and the rocks were spectacular. Some of the dunes were very steep and it could have been easy to roll over. Tomorrow is mainly a stage on the piste, so I can push again, but I must be careful".
St?phane Peterhansel and Jean-Paul Cottret finished second on the stage and the Frenchmen maintain their lead, albeit their advantage slashed in half. "After 200 kilometres Hiroshi passed me", said Peterhansel, whose reason for losing time was a flat tyre. "We stayed together for a few minutes in the middle of the stage and then, in the dunes, we drove side-by-side for around 100 kilometres. He passed me, I passed him, but then 15 kilometres before the end I had a flat and lost four minutes changing the wheel and two minutes when he caught me before. So I lost six minutes today, but it was a nice stage, very fast with some beautiful dunes. Tomorrow I will start behind him and try to make up two minutes".
The Mitsubishi Pajero / Montero crew of Jean-Pierre Fontenay and Gilles Picard continued to climb up the leaderboard and the 1998 Dakar winner finished today's stage in third position, one minute and 49 seconds ahead of fourth placed Gr?goire de Mevius. The Frenchmen are now ninth in the overall standings.
"This was the first time we've had a clean stage; no punctures, no delays", said Jean-Pierre. "We had a good battle with Giniel de Villiers, overtaking each other in the last part of the stage and we arrived at the end together. We passed some beautiful mountain ranges and big dunes".
Italian "Miki" Biasion, co-driven by Tiziano Siviero, continued his quest for a debut Dakar finish with Mitsubishi. The 1988 and 1989 World Rally Champion was 11th on the stage and the pair hold eighth overall.
Portugal's Carlos Sousa started the day in 10th position, however a fine eighth position on the stage, first of the non-factory cars, has elevated him up to seventh overnight in his Mitsubishi L200 Strakar.
Privateers Jos?-Luis Monterde and Klever Kolberg moved up to 11th and 14th respectively, the Spaniard and Brazilian both driving classic Pajeros / Monteros. "For me it has been a good few days in Libya", commented Monterde. "The car is working well and we survived the Marathon stage without problems. My goal is to be the first private driver and I am on course at this stage".
Poland's Lukasz Komornicki officially retired from the rally this morning. According to a team spokesman, the alternator failed on the stage into Ghat and Lukasz was not able to continue. "The car will be repaired this evening by the assistance team and he will hopefully be able to drive into Sabha, but he is now out of the rally".
Germany's Andrea Mayer was 18th fastest today after a trouble-free run. "We were very late into the bivouac last night in Ghat", said Mayer. "We took a track in the dust and could not get passed this big dune. It took us 50 minutes to find the right route and get back on the track, but I'm still going and that is the main thing. Sharm El Sheikh is my goal".
Of the opposition, Nissan suffered disappointment when its lead driver, Kenjiro Shinozuka, was sidelined from third position overall. The Japanese was forced out of the event after an accident.
Crews will be relieved to have reach Sabha - where the vital assistance and support vehicles have been waiting - and the night will doubtless be filled with the sound of mechanics working on bikes, cars and racing trucks in preparation for Friday's long 567 kilometre stage from Sabha to Zilla, in central Libya. The rolling sand plateaus of the Murzuk pose the first 300 kilometre challenge before the route takes the crews into the volcanic Al Haruj mountains, awash with tiny tracks constantly switching their way back and forth. Navigation will be tough and the punishment on vehicles potentially catastrophic as, despite the spectacular contrast of black volcanic rock and light coloured sand, huge boulders and volcanic cones lie in wait, ready to catch out the unwary.