Dakar: Mitsubishi stage four report

Mitsubishi and Peterhansel claim the first win in Africa. Peterhansel fastest and extends lead; Five Mitsubishis in top eight. Mitsubishi Motors driver Stéphane Peterhansel took his second stage victory in the 2003 Telefónica Dakar Rally as...

Mitsubishi and Peterhansel claim the first win in Africa.
Peterhansel fastest and extends lead; Five Mitsubishis in top eight.

Mitsubishi Motors driver St?phane Peterhansel took his second stage victory in the 2003 Telef?nica Dakar Rally as the crews contested their first stage on the African continent. The French six-time bike winner of the Dakar, co-driven by Jean-Paul Cottret, completed the shortest of the African stages 22 seconds ahead of Gr?goire de Mevius, extending his overall lead by nearly one minute in just 25 kilometres of competition. Mitsubishi Motors drivers now hold first, third, sixth, seventh and eighth in the overall standings.

St?phane Peterhansel and Jean-Paul Cottret.
Photo by Mitsubishi Motors Corporation.
After disembarking the ship in Tunis this morning following two nights at sea, the crews headed south for the start of the short 25 kilometre Tunis to Tozeur stage, dry and sunny 20 degree temperatures greeting them. Outside Tunis, a city awash with small shops and treasure troves selling souvenirs, spices, antiques, jewellery, carpets and pottery, the stage climbed over steep narrow tracks through pine forests and hills before the long liaison section to Tozeur, an old Roman outpost and gateway to the desert. Home to one of the most famous oases in the world, Tozeur is famed for its mouth-watering dates, is situated on the fringes of Lake Chott el Jerid and it is only the second time in its 25 year history that the Dakar has passed through it (the rally crossed Tunisia in 1989).

Peterhansel, who won the UAE Desert Challenge for Mitsubishi in the competition debut of the Pajero Evolution / Montero Evolution, took a cautious approach to the stage but nevertheless finished 22 seconds ahead of his nearest rival and 28 seconds in front of four-time Dakar Rally winner Ari Vatanen and defending FIA Cross Country Champion Jean-Louis Schlesser, who tied on the stage. Giniel de Villiers, who holds second position overall, finished the stage fifth, a further 22 seconds adrift.

"The special stage was short and it wasn't really advisable to push hard and take risks", Peterhansel said. "The tracks were slippery, a little bit like a World Rally Championship stage, but the serious business begins tomorrow".

Jean-Pierre Fontenay was the quickest of the trio of pursuing Mitsubishi drivers, the Frenchman, co-driven by Gilles Picard, finishing sixth on the stage to move from ninth to eighth overall. Hiroshi Masuoka and co-driver Andreas Schulz were however hot on their heels, the Japanese/German pairing just one second adrift in seventh but narrowly losing their overall second position, by just two seconds, to nearest rival Giniel de Villiers.

Former World Rally Champion "Miki" Biasion, driving a classic Pajero / Montero, was eighth on the stage and holds sixth in the overall standings.

"I'm happy with the way the day turned out for St?phane", said Team Director Dominique Serieys. "Hiroshi was first on the road this morning and said it was quite twisty. It was an advantage for St?phane to start second and he took just under one second per kilometre from Hiroshi".

Portugal's Carlos Sousa was 10th on the stage in his Mitsubishi L200 Strakar, he and co-driver Henri Magne maintaining their seventh position, sandwiching fellow Mitsubishi drivers Biasion and Fontenay. "I think the first really competitive stage on this year's event will be on Monday", commented Sousa.

While the Mitsubishi and Nissan crews have excelled in the opening stages, Volkswagen has suffered early disappointment with the new Tarek. Jutta Kleinschmidt, 2001 victor with Mitsubishi, lost 10 minutes with handbrake problems while team-mate Dieter Depping was delayed today with similar brake difficulties. Kleinschmidt also lost time with a puncture.

The Schlesser-Fords still remain one of Mitsubishi's biggest threats, despite both Jean-Louis Schlesser and team-mate Josep-Maria Servia playing a tactical game of cat and mouse further down the field. Respectively, they hold 10th and 12th positions overall, but the buggy's engine is powerful and the car very agile over the African dunes. "Schlesser is sure to be a big threat", admitted Peterhansel.

The BMW X5 Rally-Raid of Gr?goire de Mevius had been competitive in France over the WRC-type stage, however lost out in the power stakes on the beach in Castellon. The Belgian was however back on the pace today, finishing second on the stage to hold fifth overall.

The unenviable distinction of first retirement fell to 20-year-old Nicolas Misslin, the youngest competitor in the rally. The Frenchman all-but destroyed his Mitsubishi Pajero at Ch?teau-Lastours and, after assessing the damage, it was evident repairs could not be facilitated in time for the African stages. Misslin had finished a highly creditable 10th overall in the 2002 Dakar Rally.

Germany's Andrea Mayer, who has made the switch from two wheels to four, finished 22nd on today's stage and holds 42nd overall in her diesel-powered Mitsubishi Pajero. "It is very different to riding a bike; less demanding physically but it is still tough", she said. "I remember Libya in 2000 was difficult, the stages were fast and the nights extremely cold. Now I have a new challenge to do well in the Mitsubishi".

Spaniard Jos?-Luis Monterde was 18th on today's stage and moves up the leaderboard from 16th to 15th in his Pajero, while Miguel Prieto, who finished 19th on the stage, also moves up the order into 17th in the overall standings. Last year's eighth placed finisher, Brazilian Klever Kolberg, holds 18th after four stages.

While many of the rally officials have already spent one night camped out in the chilly night air on the runway at Tozeur, the whole Dakar caravan of competitors join them this evening for their first night under the stars. Tomorrow (Monday) presents the first of the longer African stages, the 285 kilometre run from Tozeur to El Borma. At the start, the stage is fast with stretches of sand and stones before gradually reaching low dunes with alternating fast and twisty sections. In the middle of the stage, tracks are rolling, stony, fast, with undulations and jumps. The route snakes between the hills and navigation is more difficult due to the numerous parallel tracks and few landmarks.


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About this article
Series Dakar
Drivers Jean-Louis Schlesser , Henri Magne , Jutta Kleinschmidt , Dieter Depping , Hiroshi Masuoka , Andreas Schulz , Jean-Paul Cottret , Jean-Pierre Fontenay , Gilles Picard , Carlos Sousa , Giniel de Villiers , Ari Vatanen , Miguel Prieto , Andrea Mayer , Josep-Maria Servia , Nicolas Misslin