Dakar: Mitsubishi stage five report

TEAM REPSOL MITSUBISHI RALLIART HEAD TOWARDS MAURITANIA IN 4TH, 5TH, 7TH AND 8TH PLACES IN DAKAR RALLY Team Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart completed the third and final Moroccan special stage of the 29th Dakar Rally handily-placed to mount a ...


Team Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart completed the third and final Moroccan special stage of the 29th Dakar Rally handily-placed to mount a major challenge on their leading rivals, as the event heads across the border into the Islamic Republic of Mauritania on Thursday morning.

Twice former winners Stéphane Peterhansel and Jean-Paul Cottret set the second fastest time, a mere 30 seconds behind the stage winner and overall rally leader Carlos Sainz, after 325km of high-speed driving through a wide variety of punishing roads. The French duo's performance duly pushed them up to seventh position in the overall standings.

"I feel better with our performance today, but it was not easy to set a fast time, starting 10th on the road this morning," said Peterhansel. "There were many stones and it was easy to get a puncture. My time was not my best, but it was easy to lose time and I slowed down. Tomorrow's stage is very fast and it will not be easy to gain too much time."

Team mates Luc Alphand/Gilles Picard and Joan 'Nani' Roma/Lucas Cruz set the fourth and fifth fastest times in their Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero Evolutions and reached the Tan Tan bivouac, classified fifth and fourth respectively, in the overall results.

"We had a puncture and when we changed the wheel a pin broke in the lid of the rear hatch and we had to stop again," said Alphand. "This cost us two minutes for repairs, so I lost three minutes for the wheel and two minutes for the pin. It was another frustrating day. Our pace is good, but we do not have the luck at the moment. Every day we are stopping for small things. If we lose five minutes every day it will not be possible to win the Dakar. Our luck needs to change."

"It was a long day and it was not easy," said Roma. "It was a technical stage and I had a puncture after 12km. I had to stop in one place and it was not good. Giniel passed me. The stage passed near where I had the accident on the Rally of Morocco in June and that was never going to be easy. I just had to concentrate. I am a little further behind than I would have liked and made a mistake with the flat tyre, but tomorrow is the start of a new race in Mauritania. The target is to reach Dakar, but it is not going to be easy to win. It is very hard this year."

Japan's Hiroshi Masuoka and French co-driver Pascal Maimon were well-placed at the first passage control, but lost over 10 minutes with three punctures. Masuoka, winner of the event in 2002 and 2003 and taking part in his 20th Dakar Rally this year, completed the stage in 10th place, albeit 12m 30s behind the overall rally leader. He now holds eighth in the overall classification, but is still close enough to the leaders to mount a serious challenge in Mauritania.

"We had a flat rear tire at 20km and then we had two more rear punctures in the next 120km," said Masuoka. "I could not understand why. I touched no rocks and then we had a flat. I was very careful after that and we still had two flat tires. I was scared then because I had no spare wheels left. If I had one more flat tire I would have been in trouble.

"We would have needed to wait for the assistance truck and that could have meant losing four or five hours. It was not good for my heart, the thought of getting another flat tire. But we were lucky and only dropped 10 minutes."

Today's special stage crossed sinuous mountain roads between the first and second passage controls and this route gave way to broken rocky tracks damaged by adverse weather conditions and fast roads with many treacherous wadis and ditches to catch out the unaware.

"Punctures were not the real issue today," said MMSP's Managing and Sporting Director Dominique Serieys. "Stephane, Luc and 'Nani' did a good job, even with two punctures for Luc and 'Nani'. In two days' time we will do another check and see if we are still losing time or whether we are wrong in our strategy. Three or four days in Mauritania will be very tough. Maybe we will be talking about differences of 30 minutes per day in a few days..."

China's Lui Bin climbs back into the top 50 in Tan Tan

Thailand's Pornsiriched breaks front axle and loses over three hours

China's Lui Bin and French co-driver Serge Henninot began the stage between Ouarzazate and Tan Tan in 52nd overall and were soon into a consistent pace, holding 47th and 53rd through the first two passage controls in the stage in their Ralliart Inc-run Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero Evolution. They finished the stage in 58th position and now hold 50th in the overall standings, rising two places on the longest day of the event so far.

"It was a good day," said Lui Bin. "The car was repaired perfectly after yesterday. I enjoyed the driving. Nothing mechanical went wrong today and the working relationship with my co-driver is fantastic. But, at the end of the stage, one very fast car overtook me and a big stone smashed my windscreen."

Thailand's Mana Pornsiriched and French co-driver Jean Brucy began the final Moroccan stage in 42nd place in their Mitsubishi L200 Triton. The Thai driver was 32nd quickest through the first passage control, but suffered problems soon afterwards and lost over three hours. He passed the third passage control in 143rd position after striking a rock at speed and breaking the front axle. Mana finished the stage in 8h 12m.

Japan's Yoshio Ikemachi began the stage into Tan Tan in 30th position in the overall standings and finished the stage in 42nd position and slipped to 32nd place. "I had a punctuyre on the left front," said the Japanese. "No problems at all after that and it was a good day for us. I will try to continue at this pace for the next few days in Mauritania. If I continue like this, I will be very happy."

Russian Alexey Berkut and Brazilian Klever Kolberg finished the stage in 20th and 24th places and now hold 18th and 68th positions in the overall rankings in their Tibau Team-run Mitsubishis.

Tomorrow (Thursday) is the longest day of the entire rally in terms of combined liaison and special stage distances. A daunting 414km liaison steers teams from Tan Tan, through the southern extremities of Morocco and across the border into the Islamic Republic of Mauritania via the Moroccan town of Smara.

The road liaison continued into Mauritania to the settlement at Bir Mogrein and the start of a 394km special stage which finishes a mere nine kilometres from the iron ore mining town of Zouérat. The special offers a combination of fast tracks, camel grass and twisty roads along the westernmost terrain in Mauritania and is commonly considered to be the toughest test faced by teams in the 2007 Dakar Rally so far.

-credit: mitsubishi

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Series Dakar
Drivers Carlos Sainz , Luc Alphand , Hiroshi Masuoka , Stéphane Peterhansel , Jean-Paul Cottret , Gilles Picard , Pascal Maimon , Jean Brucy , Klever Kolberg , Serge Henninot , Ikemachi Yoshio , Alexey Berkut , Mana Pornsiriched , Lucas Cruz Senra