Dakar: Mitsubishi stage six report

Luc Alphand Takes Second Overall In The Mitsubishi Pajero / Montero Evolution Frenchman Peterhansel records first 2005 Dakar stage win for Mitsubishi Masuoka second on first Mauritanian stage The Mitsubishi Motors Repsol ATS Studios Team moved...

Luc Alphand Takes Second Overall In The Mitsubishi Pajero / Montero Evolution
Frenchman Peterhansel records first 2005 Dakar stage win for Mitsubishi
Masuoka second on first Mauritanian stage

The Mitsubishi Motors Repsol ATS Studios Team moved back into contention for victory in the 26th Dakar Rally by setting the first and second fastest times through the 492 kilometer special stage in the north-west of Mauritania. The French Pajero / Montero Evolution crew Luc Alphand and Gilles Picard set fourth fastest time behind team mates Stéphane Peterhansel and Hiroshi Masuoka, and Frenchman Bruno Saby. The duo now lies only 40 seconds adrift of Saby in the overall standings.

Today's leg saw the Dakar Rally hit the dunes for the first of six stages in the Islamic Republic of Mauritania. A 121 kilometer liaison took the crews from Smara to the Mauritanian border and the start of the 492 competitive kilometer stage. Nearly 245 kilometers of rapid pistes followed before reaching the dunes and absolute skill behind the wheel and top navigation come into play. At the end of the section, a short nine kilometer liaison took weary crews into the bivouac at Zouérat.

Despite still suffering the effects of influenza, the stage victory for defending Dakar champion, Frenchman Stéphane Peterhansel, and co-driver Jean-Paul Cottret allowed them to jump nine places up the leaderboard to reach Zouérat in fifth position after starting the day in 14th. Before the start of the special stage, a damaged rear-right wheel meant that Peterhansel was forced to borrow a wheel off team mate Joan Roma.

"This was one of the fastest stages ever on the Dakar", said Peterhansel. "I had one rear right flat tire, but I feel much better now and am looking forward to the rest of the race".

Fellow countryman Luc Alphand and co-driver Gilles Picard were fourth through today's stage and the time promoted them to second overall, only 40 seconds behind current leader Bruno Saby and almost four minutes ahead of Volkswagen lead driver Jutta Kleinschmidt. Saby adopted the lead following Colin McRae's accident which forced the Scotsman into retirement.

"I had three Volkswagens in front of me on the stage into Smara", said the Pajero / Montero Evolution driver. "It is not worth the risk to overtake them on narrow tracks when there is such a long way to go. I saved my car through Morocco so we are in good shape for the next few days. I would have been happy with my current position if you had given me this in Spain, but I feel disappointed for Hiroshi. He has lost a lot of time and we must work as a team in the next days".

Japanese team mate Hiroshi Masuoka put yesterday's major set-back to the back of his mind by taking the second fastest time today.

"It was our mistake yesterday", said Masuoka's co-driver Andreas Schulz. "We were going quickly in the dust and there was a big hole in the road. The car crashed into the hole and we broke the wishbone. Andrea stopped to see if she could help, but she does not have the spares we needed on the Pick-Up and we eventually lost three hours". The crew began today's stage in 124th overall and promised to push hard to regain some lost time.

Andrea Mayer and Jean-Michel Polato now hold 17th in the overall standings after finishing 19th on the stage. "I haven't really had a good clear run through a stage yet", said Mayer. "We stopped for four minutes when Hiroshi had his problems on Tuesday and then several slower cars caught us up and we were held up in the dust. I do not know the limit of the car at the moment. Maybe I was driving a little too carefully at the start".

Team mates Joan 'Nani' Roma and co-driver Henri Magne are continuing at a steady pace in the third Mitsubishi Pajero / Montero Evolution and finished the day's stage in 16th position. They began the day in 17th and reached the Zouérat overnight bivouac in a respectable 14th overall, on his first competitive Dakar outing in a car.

"It was not a good day for us yesterday", admitted Team Director Dominique Serieys. "But that is the Dakar. It would have been better if we were first, second and third, but Hiroshi made a mistake. When we left Agadir I asked him to drive slowly and take care in the dust. Stéphane has been suffering with the 'flu and Luc was blocked in the dust behind Jutta Kleinschmidt's Volkswagen on the run into Smara for 250 kilometers.

"We still have a lot of time to get back into contention for the victory. We will see on Saturday night what the situation is. For me the key will be Friday and Saturday. It is not a small gap to close, but it is possible. We also had some minor Kinetic suspension problems. Now we will change the strategy for Hiroshi. He will become a really fast service car and provide good support for Luc and Stéphane".

Tomorrow is the longest stage of the rally and most difficult of the event so far, a 660 kilometer Marathon section from Zouérat to the remote oasis at Tichit. The stage passes through the El-Ghallaouiya Pass, crosses a complex of small dunes at El Mrayer and is followed by several hundred kilometers of camel grass and fast, rutted tracks. As with all Marathon stages, Mitsubishi Motors Repsol ATS Studios Team crews will have to undertake all mechanical repairs to their vehicles without the assistance of team technicians at the Tichit overnight halt, before heading into a 520km stage the day following along the fast sinuous tracks towards Tidjikja.

Housieaux 15th overall and holds onto Mitsubishi Ralliart customer team lead Polish driver Holowczyc slowed by engine damage

The Mitsubishi Pajero / Montero crew of Dominique Housieaux and Loïc Fagot continue to lead the Ralliart teams assault by setting 17th fastest time on today's stage across the border into the Islamic Republic of Mauritania and were classified 15th overall at the end of the day.

"It was a tremendously fast stage, but several of the top cars had problems and we benefited from this", said the Frenchman.

Brazilian team mates Klever Kolberg and Rouldan Lourival began the day in 21st overall in their Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero and an 18th fastest time pulled them up the order to 16th overall, just one position adrift of Housieaux.

"It was quite difficult on the liaison today", said Kolberg. "There were a lot of rocks and you had to be careful even before the stage. The wind was also a problem. It was moving the sand and I had to look 500 meters ahead of the car, rather than at the road ahead where there could have been rocks. We passed some small dunes as well. They were not a problem, but you are never sure how difficult they will be".

Krzysztof Holowczyc and Belgian co-driver Jean-Marc Fortin crash-landed their Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero and lost a lot of oil after PC3 on the stage into Smara. The Pole was forced to stop on three occasions to top up the engine.

"I was concerned about the engine. We ran for five kilometers with no oil", said the Pole. "You can change a gearbox and the suspension, but if the engine goes that is it. I found it difficult to keep my concentration on the long stage. It was the longest of my life and now today's stage was even longer!"

Chinese Pajero / Montero driver Guan Yuang Men began the first Mauritanian stage in 40th position with French co-driver Serge Henninot. "We had a flat tire and a small mechanical problem yesterday, but I am delighted to be running so far up the field at this stage. Serge and I are getting on well and I am learning all the time".


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Series Dakar
Drivers Colin McRae , 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