MITSUBISHI CREWS MAKE A STEADY START ON DAKAR'S OPENING EUROPEAN STAGE After the opening competitive section of the 28th Dakar Rally, the Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart Team crews hold sixth, seventh, 12th and 13th positions in their Pajero /...
MITSUBISHI CREWS MAKE A STEADY START ON DAKAR'S OPENING EUROPEAN STAGE
After the opening competitive section of the 28th Dakar Rally, the Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart Team crews hold sixth, seventh, 12th and 13th positions in their Pajero / Montero Evolutions. Spaniard Joan 'Nani' Roma and co-driver Henri Magne lead the team's assault after a cautious start to the grueling 9.043 kilometer event.
After the entire field had completed pre-event technical checks in Lisbon earlier in the week, a record number of 475 vehicles were permitted to start from the Portuguese capital of Lisbon this morning. The final number included 232 bikes, 174 cars and 69 trucks, with 108 assistance cars and 129 assistance trucks registered to lend support. The Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart Team has 59 staff on hand for the entire duration of the event, with a further 11 scheduled to arrive for the rest day in Nouakchott on January 8th. Today, the event kicked off with the first of 15 competitive sections; the 83 kilometer stage hosted in the Alentejo region between Lisbon and Portimão.
Mitsubishi, the defending champions and winners of this legendary African classic for the last five years, know how and where to win the Dakar Rally and all four crews had a steady run over the first European stage. Joan 'Nani' Roma and Andorra-based co-driver Henri Magne finished sixth in their Mitsubishi Pajero / Montero Evolution, ahead of team-mates Luc Alphand and Gilles Picard, but some way behind the stage-winning Spaniard Carlos Sainz.
"I have mixed feelings about these long European stages," said Luc Alphand, winner of this year's Baja Portalegre, which ran across similar terrain in the east of Portugal. "Unlike some of our rivals we had no problems with the windscreen misting over when it rained in October. But I think the problems could arise tomorrow if it rains. If it is really muddy on the second stage it could be dangerous; if you slide or lose traction, that is where the problems begin."
Former Dakar Rally victors Stephane Peterhansel and Jean-Paul Cottret were disadvantage by running first on the road this morning and paid the price by collecting a puncture near the start. They were forced to stop and change the wheel and lost over two minutes, slipping down a highly-competitive leaderboard to 12th position.
"Today's stage was quite varied," said Peterhansel. "There were places where you needed to be very careful. It was muddy in parts and some puddles of water stood in sheltered areas. Other places were much faster across rural farmland and you could push a little, but after the puncture we had no chance of setting a fast time."
Twice former winner Hiroshi Masuoka and French co-driver Pascal Maimon were running third in the stage until they too were forced to stop with a puncture a mere eight kilometers from the finish. The delay dropped the Japanese star down to 13th place.
"We were a little unlucky today," said Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart Team Director Dominique Serieys. "It is never easy to open the stage and Stephane paid the price by getting a puncture. He lost time there and then Hiroshi also had to stop near the finish to change a tire. It is very early days though, we will be patient, take no risks and wait until we reach Africa."
Tomorrow (Sunday January 1) the Dakar convoy heads out of Portimão on a 65 kilometer liaison section to the start of a 115 kilometer timed special stage across the hilly ridges of the Portuguese Algarve. This tricky stage along mountainous and winding tracks will be followed by a 387 kilometer road section to the city of Malaga, in Spain. Teams will then embark on a seven-hour overnight crossing of the Mediterranean Sea to Morocco, where the real African action commences on Monday morning.
Chinese and Thai Ralliart drivers ease themselves into the pace
Mitsubishi Motors and Ralliart Inc. entered two cars in the Dakar Rally and they held 92nd and 119th places after the opening competitive section between Lisbon and Portimão, in Portugal, today.
Team Mitsubishi Ralliart Thailand driver Mana Pornsiriched - partnered by the former KTM motorcycle support rider Jean Brucy - completed the stage in 92nd position at the wheel of his Mitsubishi Racing Triton Evolution (badged as an L200 in Europe).
The 27-year-old finished second overall in this year's Thai Off-Road Championship and underwent additional tuition between September and December this year in preparation for the Dakar Rally.
"For me the goal will be to reach Dakar," said Pornsiriched. "My co-driver has been there many times before and was a top rider, so I hope to use his experience of the dunes and the desert to help me when we reach the really difficult stages later in the event."
Team Mitsubishi Ralliart China driver Guan Yuan Men and French co-driver Serge Henninot finished the stage through the Alentejo wine region in 119th position in their diesel-powered Mitsubishi Pajero / Montero. The 25-year-old Chinese driver was the 2003 FASC Rally Driver of the Year and is keen to improve his performance on the Dakar after being forced into retirement with transmission problems in the seventh stage last year.