Dakar: Mitsubishi stage seven report

Peterhansel romps to marathon stage victory. Pajero Evolution / Montero Evolution seemingly unmatchable. Stéphane Peterhansel and Jean-Paul Cottret, piloting the Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution / Montero Evolution, romped to a convincing victory ...

Peterhansel romps to marathon stage victory.
Pajero Evolution / Montero Evolution seemingly unmatchable.

St?phane Peterhansel and Jean-Paul Cottret, piloting the Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution / Montero Evolution, romped to a convincing victory on today's 584 kilometre marathon stage from Ghadames to Ghat, the first of five stages in Libya. The Frenchmen started the day with a 49 second advantage over defending Dakar Champion Hiroshi Masuoka, but powered into the distance to finish the stage 11 minutes 32 seconds ahead of their team-mate and with an enviable 12 minute 21 second overall lead.

Klever Kolberg and Roldan Lourival.
Photo by Mitsubishi Motors Corporation.

Today's route, directly south and parallel to the Algerian border, was daunting; the first marathon stage - which equates to no overnight assistance at the bivouac - and the longest in the 25th edition of the Dakar Rally. The first 300 kilometres provided fast and varied landscape and took the competitors to the Awbari Erg, last crossed by the Dakar in 1989. After this, crews were faced with 50 kilometres of giant dunes, some of which towered an overwhelming 100 metres in height. With relatively solid sand these dunes are comparatively easy to climb, however the toughest part is negotiating the blind peaks and ensuring a measured and controlled descent. While many of the competitors doubtless opted to zigzag the dunes to find the best course, the strongest contenders will have chosen the fastest, most direct and therefore most perilous route. With the dunes behind them, the crews powered through spectacular canyons over long stretches of sand before the route gave way to vegetation towards the end of the stage. The old city of Ghat is found on a hillside, however, like many other places in the Libyan Sahara, there are very few inhabitants. Many of the old settlements have crumbled away, but some, like Ghat, are being restored in the hope of attracting tourists. It is the gateway to the Akakus Desert and awash with canyons, huge rock arches, slender plinths and caves decorated with rock painting dating from 5000 B.C., and the whole area is conserved as a national park.

The Pajero Evolution / Montero Evolution is looking seemingly unmatchable on this year's Telef?nica Dakar Rally, the lead Mitsubishi of St?phane Peterhansel pulling out a 51 minute 20 second lead over third-placed Kenjiro Shinozuka, the first non-Mitsubishi competitor.

"It was a perfect day", said Peterhansel. "We didn't make one mistake with the navigation and didn't have a single puncture. There was one difficult place where I went the wrong way for about 300 metres and saw a trail of bikes and decided to follow them. It was a good decision".

Hiroshi Masuoka, co-driven by Germany's Andreas Schultz, was second on the stage, underlining Mitsubishi's current domination. "I was running well but we took the wrong track near the second passage control", admitted Hiroshi. "We thought it was a quick route around a dune, but the dune didn't end and we had to come back the same way".

"Miki" Biasion, co-driven by Tiziano Siviero, was competing in his first-ever marathon stage for Mitsubishi Motors and completed the combination of fast rocky sections and tricky dune crossings in 11th place. The Italian former World Rally Champion overnights in Ghat in seventh position after a trouble-free day.

Frenchman Jean-Pierre Fontenay, who started the day in 12th position after losing 45 minutes in the sand yesterday, was sixth on the stage and has moved one place up the leaderboard into 11th overall, also in a classic Pajero / Montero.

After the stage, a 102 kilometre liaison section took the crews to the oasis town of Ghat, 710 metres above sea level. The Mitsubishi Motors Team will spend the night at the chilly airport, without service assistance, surrounded by the distant ridges of the Jebel Akakus mountains to the east and the striking peaks of the Tassili-n-Ajjer in Algeria to the west.

Commenting on the action so far, Team Director Dominique Serieys said: "I am delighted with the way everything is going, but there is still a long way to go and we must concentrate and ensure everything works as well tomorrow".

Portugal's Carlos Sousa, driving a Mitsubishi L200 Strakar, finished the stage in a fine 10th position, first of the non-factory cars, and holds 10th in the overall standings.

Tonight will doubtless prove to be a long one for many of the competitors as they re- fettle their own machinery using only the tools they carry. For more serious mechanical problems, crews will be forced to wait for their racing trucks to arrive at the bivouac before repairs can be made in advance of tomorrow's 497 kilometre stage from Ghat to Sabha, where all the other assistance vehicles are waiting. Thursday's stage is considered to be one of the best of the 2003 Telef?nica Dakar Rally and probably one of the most difficult in the history of the event. Fabulous countryside, endless crossings and extremely varied terrain lay in wait. Leaving Ghat, the route moves further south before heading northeast, up through the Jebel Akakus mountain range which consists of yet more giant dunes and chiselled rock formations. One hundred kilometres later the competitors hit the famous Murzuk Erg, renowned for its giant 'waves' of almost impassable sand. This will be the second stage across Libya, the fourth largest country by land-mass in Africa.


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Series Dakar
Drivers Hiroshi Masuoka , Jean-Paul Cottret , Jean-Pierre Fontenay , Tiziano Siviero , Carlos Sousa , Kenjiro Shinozuka , Klever Kolberg , Roldan Lourival