MITSUBISHI PAJERO / MONTERO EVOLUTION CREWS 2ND, 3RD, 6TH AND 10TH GOING INTO AFRICA The Mitsubishi Pajero / Montero Evolution crew of Luc Alphand and Gilles Picard lead the team's assault on the Dakar Rally after the second and final European...
MITSUBISHI PAJERO / MONTERO EVOLUTION CREWS 2ND, 3RD, 6TH AND 10TH GOING INTO AFRICA
The Mitsubishi Pajero / Montero Evolution crew of Luc Alphand and Gilles Picard lead the team's assault on the Dakar Rally after the second and final European stage of the event from Portimão to Malaga, in Spain. The French duo were second fastest in today's competitive section to power into second overall as the convoy of bikes, cars and trucks heads into Africa. Team-mates Joan 'Nani' Roma, Hiroshi Masuoka and Stephane Peterhansel hold third, sixth and 10th respectively with former World Rally Champion Carlos Sainz leading outright.
The day's 115 kilometer stage took the crews across higher ground above the Algarve and was drier and faster than yesterday's stage. Run over narrow, flowing tracks in remote farmland and upland terrain, there was the additional risk for the leaders of having to pass slower quads and motorbikes running at the rear of their category, although hanging dust was not a factor.
Luc Alphand and Gilles Picard started the day in sixth position and were on the pace from the outset. The Mitsubishi Pajero / Montero Evolution crew were second fastest through the stage, behind Sainz, to move up the leaderboard into second overall.
"I expected today's stage to be drier than yesterday, because of the slightly higher altitude," said Alphand. "The important thing was to stay in touch with the leaders without taking any risks and dropping too much time. It was a good day for me."
Joan 'Nani' Roma and Henri Magne had started the stage in fifth place in their Mitsubishi Pajero / Montero Evolution and set the fifth fastest time to move up to third overall.
"I had the same strategy for today's stage," said Roma, "and that was to take no risks at all. Now we can put Europe behind us and concentrate on the real Dakar. For me the Dakar Rally starts in Morocco on Monday morning."
Japanese Pajero / Montero Evolution driver Hiroshi Masuoka and French co-driver Pascal Maimon set the fourth fastest time today and head towards Morocco in sixth place in the overall standings. "For me, I feel more at home in the dunes and the camel grass where I have a lot of experience and can use that to my advantage," said Masuoka. "But the number of days through the most difficult areas of desert is fewer this year. In fact, I would say we have three good days where I feel I can make a big difference."
Stephane Peterhansel and co-driver Jean-Paul Cottret started the New Year with a second puncture, but the French duo had been running as high as second overall in the stage. "We had to stop to change another tire and lost more time," said Peterhansel, who nevertheless moved into 10th position. "I will not have fond memories of my passage through Portugal on the Dakar Rally."
Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart Team Director Dominique Serieys added: "I am very pleased with the way we finished the last stage in Europe. It is a good feeling to go to Africa with all four cars in the top 10. Stephane had a puncture passing a motorbike, but everyone else drove very well and we can look ahead now to the start of a fresh challenge on Monday. Luc put in a great performance to finish so close to Carlos Sainz on a track which was more like a World Rally Championship stage."
Adding to his comments, Isao Torii, Team President, said: "I am very happy with the way we have finished the European stages without any problems. Our drivers put in great performances today and I am confident that we can maintain this progress in Africa next week."
Teams now embark on a seven-hour overnight crossing of the Mediterranean Sea to Morocco, where the first African stage of the 28th Dakar Rally is hosted. After arriving in Nador, the crews drive a 237 kilometer liaison section to the start of the 314 kilometer stage to the east of Guercif. This section runs south towards the first overnight bivouac at Er Rachidia, crosses several wadis and requires good navigational skills. A 121 kilometer road section then takes teams to the overnight halt adjacent to the local airport at Er Rachidia.
Mitsubishi Ralliart China and Thailand teams survive Europe
Twenty-seven-year-old Mana Pornsiriched, partnered by the former KTM support rider Jean Brucy, started today's stage in 92nd position in his 3.2 liter diesel-powered Mitsubishi Racing Triton Evolution. The Thai driver completed the final European competitive section of the Dakar Rally and moves into 82nd position as the crews get set to board the ship to the African continent.
Chinese driver Guan Yuan Men and French co-driver Serge Henninot set out into the second stage in 119th position and also moved up the leaderboard into 106th in their Mitsubishi Pajero / Montero.
"I have many varied memories of the Dakar Rally from last year," said Men. "I want to finish, but first I know that I have to get passed the sand dunes and the desert. It was good to drive longer stages in Europe as it was a chance to get into a rhythm early before we go to Africa."