REPSOL RIDERS AND DRIVERS HEAD TOWARDS MAURITANIA IN LEADING POSITIONS In the motorbike class, Marc Coma keeps the leadership, Jordi Viladoms is sixth and Giovanni Sala, thirteenth. In the car class, Peterhansel sets the second fastest time to...
REPSOL RIDERS AND DRIVERS HEAD TOWARDS MAURITANIA IN LEADING POSITIONS
In the motorbike class, Marc Coma keeps the leadership, Jordi Viladoms is sixth and Giovanni Sala, thirteenth. In the car class, Peterhansel sets the second fastest time to maintain pressure on leader Sainz.
Team Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart completed the third and final Moroccan special stage of the 29th Dakar Rally handily-placed to mount a major challenge on their leading rivals, as the event heads across the border into the Islamic Republic of Mauritania on Thursday morning.
Twice former winners Stéphane Peterhansel and Jean-Paul Cottret set the second fastest time, a mere 30 seconds behind the stage winner and overall rally leader Carlos Sainz, after 325km of high-speed driving through a wide variety of punishing roads. The French duo's performance duly pushed them up to seventh position in the overall standings. Team mates Luc Alphand/Gilles Picard and Joan 'Nani' Roma/Lucas Cruz set the fourth and fifth fastest times in their Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero Evolutions and reached the Tan Tan bivouac, classified fifth and fourth respectively, in the overall results. Japan's Hiroshi Masuoka and French co-driver Pascal Maimon were well-placed at the first passage control, but lost over 10 minutes with three punctures.
Masuoka, winner of the event in 2002 and 2003 and taking part in his 20th Dakar Rally this year, completed the stage in 10th place, albeit 12m 30s behind the overall rally leader. He now holds eighth in the overall classification, but is still close enough to the leaders to mount a serious challenge in Mauritania.
Today's special stage crossed sinuous mountain roads between the first and second passage controls and this route gave way to broken rocky tracks damaged by adverse weather conditions and fast roads with many treacherous wadis and ditches to catch out the unaware.
Coma keeps on top
In the motorbike class Marc Coma is still setting the pace in the 2007 Dakar Rally. After clearly winning the stage from Er Rachidia to Foum Zguid yesterday, Coma has handed over less than two minutes in the second part of the marathon stage from Foum Zguid to Tan Tan. It was a typical Moroccan stage with a lot of stones, multiple tracks, dust and continuous traps.
Coma, who opened the track today after yesterday's victory, lost less than two minutes to Esteve, while the rest of the riders weren't able to catch the Spanish pairing. Positive performance as well for the rest of the Repsol KTM team riders. Jordi Viladoms, in an incident-free day, being able to ride at his own pace, set the fourth fastest time today and is sixth in the overall standings, still waiting for the organisation to make up for the time lost during the stops to help two riders yesterday. Giovanni Sala, improving day after day on the bike that is completely new to him, finished ninth today and has also been able to climb positions in the overall standings, moving up to thirteenth.
The Dakar "visit" in Morocco has come to an end and tomorrow (Thursday) is the longest day of the entire rally in terms of combined liaison and special stage distances. A daunting 414km liaison steers teams from Tan Tan, through the southern extremities of Morocco and across the border into the Islamic Republic of Mauritania via the Moroccan town of Smara. The road liaison continued into Mauritania to the settlement at Bir Mogrein and the start of a 394km special stage which finishes a mere nine kilometres from the iron ore mining town of Zouérat. The special offers a combination of fast tracks, camel grass and twisty roads along the westernmost terrain in Mauritania and is commonly considered to be the toughest test faced by teams in the 2007 Dakar Rally so far.
"I feel better with our performance today, but it was not easy to set a fast time, starting 10th on the road this morning. There were many stones and it was easy to get a puncture. My time was not my best, but it was easy to lose time and I slowed down. Tomorrow's stage is very fast and it will not be easy to gain too much time."
"We had a puncture and when we changed the wheel a pin broke in the lid of the rear hatch and we had to stop again. This cost us two minutes for repairs, so I lost three minutes for the wheel and two minutes for the pin. It was another frustrating day. Our pace is good, but we do not have the luck at the moment. Every day we are stopping for small things. If we lose five minutes every day it will not be possible to win the Dakar. Our luck needs to change."
"It was a long day and it was not easy. It was a technical stage and I had a puncture after 12km. I had to stop in one place and it was not good. Giniel passed me. The stage passed near where I had the accident on the Rally of Morocco in June and that was never going to be easy. I just had to concentrate. I am a little further behind than I would have liked and made a mistake with the flat tyre, but tomorrow is the start of a new race in Mauritania. The target is to reach Dakar, but it is not going to be easy to win. It is very hard this year."
"We had a flat rear tire at 20km and then we had two more rear punctures in the next 120km. I could not understand why. I touched no rocks and then we had a flat. I was very careful after that and we still had two flat tires. I was scared then because I had no spare wheels left. If I had one more flat tire I would have been in trouble. We would have needed to wait for the assistance truck and that could have meant losing four or five hours. It was not good for my heart, the thought of getting another flat tire. But we were lucky and only dropped 10 minutes."
"The first part of today's stage was completely new. It's been a very enduro-like stage, with a lot of mountain sections in which you had to work hard physically. Then there was a faster section, less technical, but with a lot of stones, and you had to be very careful, because we were using the same tyres as yesterday. The same tyre had to last for many kilometres and fortunately everything worked out fine. Passing these days without problems was essential and things have worked out fine so far. Our aim was avoiding problems, but the race yesterday was pretty positive and I was able to make use of the mistakes made by the others in the back. So the intention today was actually the same: to set a normal pace, to avoid risks and to try to feel comfortable, so we've been able to achieve our aim."
"I finally managed to finish among the top ten today and therefore I'm quite happy, because this means that we're improving. In fact, I'm feeling more comfortable on the bike every day, and that's positive. It's good because it helps be to feel better since I see that I'm able to keep the pace of the strongest riders. Now Morocco is over so the most dangerous and less navigational part has finished. Navigation will be gaining importance in the coming days and that makes me feel more positive, because at least I'll be able to make use of my experience in previous editions in these stages."
"It's been much better today. At the beginning of the stage there was a bit of dust of the front riders, because I had to start fourteenth, and from the first ten, the next riders start every thirty seconds. That makes it complicated, because you come across a lot of dust, but once I've been able to pass them, from kilometre 100 I've been able to ride alone and keep a good pace. I immediately felt very comfortable and that allowed me to finish in a good position today. Despite this being a marathon stage, the motorbike has done really well. I had to fix a small joint yesterday, nothing important and arrived in good conditions to start today perfectly well."