Dakar: Mitsubishi stage seven report

Mitsubishi First and Second Overall after Grueling Marathon Stage in Dakar Second stage win promotes Peterhansel to first, Alphand second overall Organizers shorten Dakar leg eight as punishing route takes its toll The Mitsubishi Motors...

Mitsubishi First and Second Overall after Grueling Marathon Stage in Dakar

Second stage win promotes Peterhansel to first, Alphand second overall
Organizers shorten Dakar leg eight as punishing route takes its toll

The Mitsubishi Motors Repsol ATS Studios Team confidently lead the field for the first time on the 26th Dakar Rally and another fastest stage time by Peterhansel through the 660 kilometer Marathon stage promoted the French Pajero / Montero Evolution crew Stéphane Peterhansel and co-driver Jean-Paul Cottret to the top of the leaderboard. The duo now lies 28 minutes ahead of team mate Luc Alphand in second as they reach the Tichit bivouac in Mauritania.

Covering 660 kilometers, today's marathon stage was the longest of the rally and most difficult of the event so far, taking crews from Zouérat in Mauritania to the remote oasis further south east at Tichit. The stage passed through the El-Ghallaouiya Pass, requiring crews to navigate numerous dunes and several hundred kilometers of camel grass along the fast and rutted tracks. Patience will have been key to avoiding mistakes. As with any Marathon stage, Mitsubishi Motors Repsol ATS Studios Team crews have to undertake all mechanical repairs to their vehicles without the assistance of team technicians at the Tichit overnight halt, before heading into a stage tomorrow along the tricky fast sinuous tracks towards Tidjikja.

Stéphane Peterhansel and Jean-Paul Cottret climbed nine places on the run into Zouérat and set their second consecutive fastest time today on the punishing Marathon stage into Tichit, where winds and shifting sands made the progress difficult, but their performance in the adverse weather conditions lifted the defending champions into the outright lead of the rally in their Mitsubishi Pajero / Montero Evolution. Their finishing time was so fast they were 25 minutes ahead of nearest rival Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah who was second fastest through the stage.

"I feel much happier than I did a couple of days ago", said Peterhansel, who was still taking aspirin and vitamin C tablets to combat the effects of influenza this morning in the windswept bivouac in Zouérat. "But I still feel that I can drive much quicker and find a better rhythm.

"The first part of the stage today was very fast, but not too difficult. After the third passage control the average speed was not more than 40 km/h, because of the camel grass and the undulating terrain. I had no flat tires today, we have all four wheels for tomorrow's stage and the car is in good shape. We passed around 150 bikes, but I am lucky I can start first tomorrow".

Former downhill ski champion Luc Alphand and co-driver Gilles Picard began the stage a mere 40 seconds behind the overnight leader Bruno Saby in second position. He finished the stage in fourth position to hold second, ahead of Germany's Jutta Kleinschmidt and Qatar's Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah, in the overall standings.

Japan's Hiroshi Masuoka and German co-driver Andreas Schulz were running at the front of the field once again after delays into Smara on leg five, but they were forced to stop in the stage today with damage to the front of the car.

"At the beginning of the dunes we lost our way", said Masuoka. "We thought we had a puncture and changed a tire, but it was just low pressure and we were able to have four tires for tomorrow. The last 50 kilometers we nearly ran out of fuel and the engine was misfiring. We were lucky to arrive at the bivouac".

Germany's Andrea Mayer and French co-driver Jean-Michel Polato began the day's stage in 17th position in the Mitsubishi L200 Pick-Up. "I took a wrong route into Zouérat yesterday and we lost some time", said Mayer, who held 36th position through the second passage control in today's stage.

Spaniard Joan 'Nani' Roma and co-driver Henri Magne are enjoying their first Dakar Rally together in a Mitsubishi Pajero / Montero Evolution MPR10.

"For me the race started today", said the 2004 Dakar bike champion. "The Marathon stage is always critical for the outcome of the race. I feel much more comfortable driving quickly in a car than I did on a bike, where you always felt that a bike was twitchy and could snap sideways at any moment.

"My experience on a bike has been very important. Maybe I have a good feeling for the tracks and the dunes. On a bike you are concerned with the track immediately in front of you, but in a car you need to be careful because you are looking into the distance and you cannot see holes and rocks close to the car".

MMSP's Team Director Dominique Serieys was in happier mood. "It was a much better day for us than into Zouérat, but the next two days will be critical", admitted Serieys. "The plan this morning was for Hiroshi to drive as a rapid assistance for Stéphane and Luc. He started second on the road and his role was to shadow them both to the finish. It is frustrating for him, but this is a team race and the sensible option at this stage".

"There are no mechanics in the bivouac tonight and the cars will go into a parc fermé area. Both 'Nani' Roma and Hiroshi took several extra spare parts with them this morning, in case we needed to work on Stéphane and Luc's cars".

Tomorrow sees crews tackle the second half of the marathon section over 520 kilometers of competition towards Tidjikja just west of Tichit.

Tomorrow the Mitsubishi Motors Repsol ATS Studios Team heads in a southerly and westerly direction to the remote airstrip at Tidjikja, a regular stopover on the Dakar Rally. The 520 kilometer stage features a run through the notorious Nega Pass and a mixture of camel grass, fast rocky terrain and twisty tracks, but TSO officials decided to shorten the stage to 130 kilometers due to the difficulty of today's stage into Tichit and the late arrival of many competitors. Even after covering the revised distance of 790 kilometers over the last two days, crews will be relieved to reach the end of the first of two Marathon stages and a team of refreshed mechanics to assist with repairs.

Kolberg leads Mitsubishi Ralliart teams en route to Tichit

The Mitsubishi Pajero / Montero crew of Brazilians Klever Kolberg and Rouldan Lourival began the day in 16th place and were 10th quickest through the second passage control into Tichit. Russians Alexey Berkut and Anton Nikolaev began the day in 21st place and were running behind the Brazilians in the early part of today's stage.

Dominique Housieaux and Loïc Fagot led the Mitsubishi Ralliart customers into the stage in 15th position, but hit trouble before the first passage control.

Multiple Polish rally champion Krzysztof Holowczyc and his Belgian co-driver Jean-Marc Fortin arrived in the Zouérat bivouac at 02.15 hrs this morning in 119th position. The front differential failed on their Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero at the start of the stage into Zouérat and they eventually got stuck in soft sand near the stage finish.

"There was nothing we could do", said the Pole. "But then a Nissan assistance truck stopped and helped us to the finish, but we have a time penalty".

Chinese driver Guan Yuang Men arrived in Zouérat in the dark after rolling his Mitsubishi Pajero / Montero at slow speed over the first of the small sand dunes. "It was a simple accident and there was not too much damage to the car", said French co-driver Serge Henninot. The pair began this morning's stage in 57th position.

Dutchman Toni van Deijne and Swiss team mate Arnold Meier both hit trouble before PC1 in today's stage from Zouérat.


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About this article
Series Dakar
Drivers Luc Alphand , Henri Magne , Jutta Kleinschmidt , Hiroshi Masuoka , Andreas Schulz , Stéphane Peterhansel , Jean-Paul Cottret , Gilles Picard , Klever Kolberg , Andrea Mayer , Bruno Saby , Serge Henninot , Dominique Housieaux , Loïc Fagot , Jean-Michel Polato , Krzysztof Holowczyc , Jean-Marc Fortin , Alexey Berkut , Arnold Meier