GOOD START FOR REPSOL RIDERS AND DRIVERS AT THE FIRST SPECIAL OF THE 2006 LISBON DAKAR Marc Coma is third, 4 seconds behind the first classified rider; Caldecott ninth, De Gavardo fourteenth, Viladoms twentieth and Sala, doing team work,...
GOOD START FOR REPSOL RIDERS AND DRIVERS AT THE FIRST SPECIAL OF THE 2006 LISBON DAKAR
Marc Coma is third, 4 seconds behind the first classified rider; Caldecott ninth, De Gavardo fourteenth, Viladoms twentieth and Sala, doing team work, finishes 43nd. In the car class, sixth place for Nani Roma and Henri Magne. Puntures for Peterhansel and Masuoka.
Rain and fog made things harder than expected at the first stage of the 2006 Lisbon Dakar Rally. Unlike previous editions, this first stage of the rally - 370 kms, starting in Lisbon and finishing in Portimao-, hasn't been an easy prologue show, but a real special covering 83 timed kms, something that hadn't been usual so far on European grounds.
For the Repsol riders, this was a day to be especially careful in order to avoid any mistake. As Marc Coma was saying last night, "tomorrow and the day after tomorrow will be stages were you can win very little but easily loose the race." So the best thing to do was riding carefully and avoiding any unnecessary risk. Winner of the motorbike special was French rider Cyril Despres, followed by local rider Ruben Faria, with Marc Coma third, 4 seconds behind the leader. Andy Caldecott, Viladoms team mate in the Repsol KTM B team, finished ninth and Chilean rider De Gavardo, who had a light crash during the special, was fourteenth. Jordi Viladoms, in his first contact with the African race, set the twentieth fastest clock, while Giovanni Sala, doing team work, finished 43nd, after waiting at the stage start for his team mate Marc Coma to continue the rest of the special together.
In the car class the Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart team held fifth, sixth, 12th and 13th positions after the opening timed 83 kms special stage in the Alentejo region between Lisbon and Portimao today (Saturday). Leading the way for the defending champions and winners of the gruelling African classic for the last five years were Spaniard Joan 'Nani' Roma and Andorra-based co-driver Henri Magne in their Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero Evolution. The pair held fifth position at the end of the opening stage, ahead of team mates Luc Alphand and Gilles Picard, but some way behind the stage-winning Spaniard Carlos Sainz. Frenchman Stephane Peterhansel and co-driver Jean-Paul Cottret had the disadvantage of running first on the road this morning and paid the price by collecting a flat tire near the start. They were forced to stop and change the wheel and lost over two minutes, slipping down a highly-competitive leader board to 12th position. Twice former winner Hiroshi Masuoka and French co-driver Pascal Maimon were running in third position in the stage until they also sustained a flat tire a mere eight kilometres from the finish. The delay dropped the Japanese star down to 13th place.
Riders and drivers had to face today fast tracks habitually used for the Baja Portugal, but with the added difficulty caused by the rainfall of previous days, creating several muddy sections along the special. As regards navigation, the stage had no difficulty at all, since all accesses were closed and the route clearly indicated. In addition, the massive spectator attendance, just as if it would be a world rally championship event, made it easier to recognise the roads, so it was an amusing stage, both for fans and participants.
Riders and drivers comments
Marc Coma: "We have found a little bit of everything today. The rain began to fall halfway the special and made things a little more complicated, because the bike lost grip and it wasn't easy to ride. Today was the fist contact with the bike and the navigation instruments. It was about getting the feeling on the bike, enjoying, and if possible, open a short gap to the rivals, although the most important was avoiding to be left behind. There has been a huge spectator presence and we also had a lot of fun, so everything went quite well. It seems that tomorrow we'll have a similar special and the day after tomorrow we'll finally be in Africa, where the real race will start."
Giovanni Sala: "Today we practised a bit of the race strategy because I had to wait for Marc to make sure he had no problems. I lost some minutes, but it's been a good stage in general terms. The track was a bit slippery, but I enjoyed a lot because it was similar to an enduro race. It's been a positive day."
Carlo De Gavardo: "It's been wonderful day. The special went through the woods and although there were some very slippery sections, we didn't find so much mud as expected. I entered too fast in one of those parts and slipped some metres on the floor, but there were fortunately no rocks and I didn't loose more than a minute. The bike worked well and the people were great. There were a lot of spectators and I had the feeling of racing the Cordoba Rally in Argentina, with all those people standing on the hills. I enjoyed today's stage a lot."
Andy Caldecott: "Today has been quite good and I enjoyed riding. The track was OK; when I passed some other 200 bikes had passed already, so it's been easy. The track had been opened and there were tracks to follow, so I had no problem at all as regards navigation. I'm happy because I liked the route and I felt very comfortable on the bike."
Jordi Viladoms: "I was quite nervous at the beginning because I didn't know the pace I needed to set, but then I caught Andy Grider. I put myself behind him and he set the pace. It went very well because he was marking the sections, I saw when he braked or when he bike moved in a strange way, so I had some more time to react. The ground was slippery and there were some wheel tracks, so it was a bit dangerous and you had to be careful, but it's been fun."
Nani Roma: "It hasn't been an easy day, but I'm happy about how things have gone. The terrain changed a lot; there were dry sections and some others covered with mud and slippery. It was quite dangerous and there were also a lot of spectators. I started calmly, maybe too calmly, but I quickly got the pace and eventually enjoyed a lot. There's a lot of race ahead and the most important thing was not making any mistake. We didn't and now we're on the move."
Luc Alphand: "I have mixed feelings about these long European stages. Unlike some of our rivals we had no problems with the windscreen misting over when it rained in October. But I think the problems could arise tomorrow if it rains. If it is really muddy on the second stage it could be dangerous. If you slide or lose traction, that is where the problems begin."
Stephane Peterhansel: "Today's stage was quite varied. There were places where you needed to be very careful. It was muddy in parts and some puddles of water stood in sheltered areas. Other places were much faster across rural farmland and you could push a little, but after the puncture we had no chance of setting a fast time."
Dominique Serieys, Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart Team Director: "We were a little unlucky today. It is never easy to open the stage and Stephane paid the price by getting a puncture. He lost time there and then Hiroshi also had to stop near the finish to change a tire. It is very early days. We will be patient, take no risks and wait until we reach Africa."
The second stage of the rally won't give any respite to participants either, who will be taking the start tomorrow in Portimao to cover a 65 kms liaison. Then they will have to set a good pace to cover the 115 kms special, followed by a road section that will take them to Malaga, to embark heading for Africa. Still on the European continent, the stage participants will face tomorrow is quite similar to today's, with fast tracks, little complications as regards navigation, but in a mountainous area surrounded by rocks. They will find fast tracks, where participants will have the chance to show their skills and start to get ready in the face of everything that is expecting them in Africa. The rain fallen today and on previous days will mean more mud and that is something that can always be dangerous if they get distracted.