Dakar: Mitsubishi stage four report

ALPHAND LEADS MITSUBISHI'S ASSAULT IN DAY OF MIXED FORTUNES Tables turned in today's leg of the Dakar Rally and the Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart Team crew of Luc Alphand and Gilles Picard have powered up the leaderboard into fourth position from...


Tables turned in today's leg of the Dakar Rally and the Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart Team crew of Luc Alphand and Gilles Picard have powered up the leaderboard into fourth position from an overnight ninth. In contrast, Mitsubishi Pajero / Montero Evolution team-mate Joan 'Nani' Roma, the leader going into today's leg, lost time and slipped to ninth with defending Dakar champion Stephane Peterhansel in 11th. Hiroshi Masuoka, piloting a fourth Pajero / Montero Evolution, finished the day 13th overall after rolling. The Japanese driver reached tonight's bivouac, but was then forced into retirement due to damage to the roll cage.

Today has been the longest leg of the 28th Dakar Rally so far and, as anticipated, it was no easy ride for the crews with yet more tough navigational challenges. A short 56 kilometer liaison section took competitors to the start of the 386 kilometer stage from Er Rachidia to Ouarzazate, in Morocco, which ran close to the Algerian frontier and took in the first of the dunes in a classic Dakar stage. With stony river beds, sandy tracks, fast laterite pistes, dry lakes and new rules which limit the use of GPS for navigation purposes, drivers and co-drivers were tested to the full. A 197 kilometer road section then took teams to the overnight halt at the tourist resort of Ouarzazate.

The French duo of Alphand and Gilles Picard were fifth through the first passage control, as they attempted to climb back up the leaderboard after a cautious run on Monday. They finished the stage third fastest, just adrift of Spaniard Carlos Sainz and Frenchman Thierry Magnaldi, as Sainz again regained the overall lead.

"Today was a game of avoiding the dust," said Alphand. "We had a good run for about 100 kilometers, but then we caught some drivers, including Stephane, who had taken the wrong track, and finished the stage in the dust again. Tomorrow is a tight stage with a fast chott at the finish, but dust will again be a factor."

The Mitsubishi Pajero / Montero Evolution crew of Joan 'Nani' Roma and Henri Magne went into today's leg leading the event overall. However, the duo lost time in the section, finished in 11th position, and slipped to ninth on the leaderboard.

"Not a good day for me," said Roma. "After the dunes I was running well, but then we made a navigational error and took a track off to the right. Then the problems started. I had a puncture and the jacking system was not fastened away securely and we had to stop again to secure it. Then we finished the stage in the dust."

After climbing to sixth position yesterday, defending Dakar champions Stephane Peterhansel and co-driver Jean-Paul Cottret held seventh place through the first passage control. However, a costly navigation error saw them drop more than 17 minutes to stage winner Carlos Sainz and they overnight in 11th position.

"A junction was not very clear in the road book and we followed the dust of the motor bikes," admitted Peterhansel. "We turned right, followed the wrong track for seven kilometers and then decided to go back to the junction. All the following cars saw me and took the correct way. It was very frustrating. I had passed Schlesser and Hiroshi had a puncture, so I was running first on the road."

Japan's Hiroshi Masuoka and co-driver Pascal Maimon began this morning's competitive section behind yesterday's stage winner Jean-Louis Schlesser and shadowed the Frenchman to the first passage control. But the twice former Dakar champion lost over 27 minutes soon after when he rolled his Mitsubishi Pajero / Montero Evolution. He eventually completed the stage in 15th position. At the bivouac, the Japanese driver had slipped to 13th overall on the leaderboard, but the damage sustained to the car from the accident has forced the crew into retirement.

"We passed a crossroads with some spectators and then saw a dip ahead; it was far too late to slow down," said Masuoka. "We rolled and the car went over twice."

Commenting on the day's competition, Team Director Dominique Serieys said: "We had some typical Dakar Rally problems today. Stephane lost time with a minor navigational error; this was a case of suffering - like Carlos Sainz yesterday - with running first on the road after he overtook Schlesser. He tried to find a good track and everyone else benefited. Hiroshi had an accident and the car sustained some damage which we cannot repair. A technical expert looked at it and we had no alternative but to withdraw Hiroshi from the race. It is unfortunate, but that is rallying sometimes. Thankfully, neither Hiroshi nor Pascal were injured."

This evening, the Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart Team will camp at the garrison city of Ouarzazate, the 'Gateway to the Desert', overlooking the nearby Valley of the Draa and Valley of the Dades. Tomorrow's fifth leg, from Ouarzazate to Tan Tan, will be another tough one with fast stretches and more difficult navigation. The day kicks off with a 187 kilometer liaison to the 350 kilometer competitive section that takes the crews towards the Atlantic coastal town of Tan Tan. In total, the leg takes in 819 kilometers.

Mitsubishi's Thai and Chinese teams cruise through yesterday's first African stage

Thailand's Mana Pornsiriched and French co-driver Jean Brucy began yesterday's first African stage locked in the mid-range of the car category. It was the Mitsubishi Ralliart Team Thailand driver's first taste of Dakar competition in Africa at the wheel of his Mitsubishi Racing Triton Evolution and he was up to 77th place by the second passage control. He eventually finished the stage in 73rd position and held 66th overall going into today's leg.

"So far we have had no problems at all," said co-driver Brucy, a veteran of over eight Dakars on a motorcycle. "We decided to take it steady and make sure that we reach the desert. Mana has never been in the dunes before so this could be a big test for him."

Chinese driver Guan Yuan Men and French co-driver Serge Henninot held 98th position through the first passage control between Nador and Er Rachidia and eventually completed the stage in 70th position to climb to 83rd in the overall standings.

"No problems with the car at all so far," enthused team spokesman Jurgen Masal. "We carried out a routine service in Er Rachidia on Monday night and Men was on his way again to Ouarzazate on Tuesday morning. It is early days, but so far so good."


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Series Dakar
Drivers Carlos Sainz , Luc Alphand , Jean-Louis Schlesser , Henri Magne , Hiroshi Masuoka , Stéphane Peterhansel , Jean-Paul Cottret , Gilles Picard , Pascal Maimon , Jean Brucy , Serge Henninot , Thierry Magnaldi , Mana Pornsiriched