Mitsubishi Motors team leads Dakar rally into Africa . Masuoka sets fastest time at Castellon; Three Mitsubishis in top four. The Mitsubishi Pajero / Montero Evolution crew of Stephane Peterhansel and Jean-Paul Cottret have extended their lead...
Mitsubishi Motors team leads Dakar rally into Africa .
Masuoka sets fastest time at Castellon; Three Mitsubishis in top four.
The Mitsubishi Pajero / Montero Evolution crew of Stephane Peterhansel and Jean-Paul Cottret have extended their lead in the 2003 Telefonica Dakar Rally after finishing second on today's eight kilometre stage at Castellon. The French crew hold a 29 second lead over Mitsubishi team-mate, 2002 victor and stage winner Hiroshi Masuoka as the Dakar competitors leave Europe, via boat, for the long and arduous journey through Africa.
By Dakar standards it was a short day which started with a five kilometre liaison section to the start of the shortest stage of this year's marathon 8,576 kilometre event. However, the Dakar is notorious for biting back and, despite only eight kilometres of competitive driving, each and every one of the competitors wanted to leave Europe on a high before heading to the African continent for the classic stages which characterise this epic adventure. After finishing the stage on the beach in Castellon, where a huge crowd had gathered to watch the action, crews then headed 82 kilometres south to Valencia to board the boat bound for Tunis, which sets sail this evening.
"I was happy with the way everything went today", said Peterhansel, six-time bike winner of the Dakar. "It was a little sandy in places but nothing too tricky, and I don't mind being first on the road in Tunisia on Sunday. Now I can spend a couple of nights on the boat and get myself mentally prepared for the desert".
Hiroshi Masuoka and co-driver Andreas Schulz, driving the Team ENEOS Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution / Montero Evolution, set the pace and claimed the stage victory by a clear five seconds. In doing so the Japanese/German pairing overhauled Nissan rival Giniel de Villiers to climb into second overall by just four seconds, securing a one-two for Mitsubishi Motors.
"The jumps were exciting and there was a massive crowd and great atmosphere", said Masuoka. "I pushed hard because I wanted to leave Europe on a winning note".
Double World Rally Champion (1988 & 1989) "Miki" Biasion, co-driven by Tiziano Siviero, is contesting his first Dakar and the Italian was relieved to reach Valencia without problems. The Pajero / Montero crew finished the stage in fifth position, 17 seconds adrift of Masuoka, to climb from sixth to fourth overall.
"You know there is nothing to gain and everything to lose by driving too hard in Europe", said Biasion. "To be a minute behind the leader is nothing; you can make this up in one stage in Africa. The real challenge now begins".
Seasoned Dakar driver and former winner Jean-Pierre Fontenay has held a steady pace in the fourth official Mitsubishi Pajero / Montero and the Frenchman, co-driven by fellow countryman Gilles Picard, finished 10th on the stage to maintain ninth overall.
"It was a well organised stage", he said. "There was some soft sand and this will be a reminder to the amateur drivers of what they can expect next week in Africa".
Carlos Sousa was looking forward to planning his attack in Africa after finishing ninth on the stage, two seconds ahead of Fontenay, to hold seventh overall in his Mitsubishi L200 Strakar. "I can see that the European stages are important for the magnificent spectators and sponsors, but there are a lot of long road sections", said Sousa. "I think that the top 10 or 15 cars were pushing maybe a little too hard over the first two stages and giving extra work to the mechanics every night!"
After the European stages, Spaniard Jose-Luis Monterde holds 16th position, Brazilian Klever Kolberg is 18th and Spain's Miguel Prieto is 19th, all three driving Mitsubishi Pajero / Monteros.
Germany's Andrea Mayer is contesting her seventh Dakar Rally but the challenge is no less as she makes the switch from two-wheels to four, driving a Diesel-powered Mitsubishi Pajero for the first time. "It will not be as physically tiring this year, but I know it will be tough and a totally different challenge", said Mayer, who currently holds 60th position.
The 2003 Telefonica Dakar Rally started in dramatic fashion for 20-year-old Nicolas Misslin, the youngest driver in the event. The Mitsubishi driver went off the road and rolled his Pajero at Ch?teau-Lastours, causing enough damage to result in a sleepless night for his mechanics. The Frenchman has subsequently retired.
The crews now take a well-earned rest aboard the ship bound from Valencia on the eastern coast of Spain to Tunis on the northern tip of Tunisia. After spending both Friday and Saturday nights at sea, action resumes when the crews disembark on Sunday morning for a procession through the capital city before starting the first of the African stages - a short 25 kilometre stage from Tunis to Tozeur, home to one of the most famous oases in the world.