REPSOL TEAMS MAKE CAUTIOUS START TO DEFENCE OF DAKAR RALLY TITLE IN PORTUGAL Nani Roma and Lucas Cruz head Mitsubishi challenge in seventh place. In the motorbike class, Marc Coma is thirteenth, Giovanni Sala twentieth and Jordi Viladoms ...
REPSOL TEAMS MAKE CAUTIOUS START TO DEFENCE OF DAKAR RALLY TITLE IN PORTUGAL
Nani Roma and Lucas Cruz head Mitsubishi challenge in seventh place. In the motorbike class, Marc Coma is thirteenth, Giovanni Sala twentieth and Jordi Viladoms twenty-first.
A crowd of around 1,500 people gathered outside the Belem Cultural Centre on Saturday morning to witness the start of the 29th running of the world's most famous off-road event. The bumper bike entry managed to leave the start in relatively clear conditions, but fog from the Tagus River enveloped competitors soon afterwards and the majority of the leading cars left in foggy conditions and poor visibility. The final entry list is made-up by a total of 231 motorbikes, 14 quads, 181 cars and 85 trucks.
Team Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart began the defence of its Dakar Rally title by holding a cautious seventh, eighth, 10th and 17th positions after the tricky opening 117km special stage of the event between Lisbon and Portimao in Portugal. Joan 'Nani' Roma, making his return to active competition with new co-driver Lucas Cruz, was the leading Mitsubishi driver after the opening stage in a troublefree seventh position, albeit 4m 53s behind the early leaders Carlos Sousa and Andreas Schulz.
Twice former winners Stephane Peterhansel and Jean-Paul Cottret recorded a time 24 seconds slower than their team mates in a second Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero Evolution and held eighth place, while Japan's Hiroshi Masuoka and Frenchman Pascal Maimon were classified in 10th overall. Defending champions Luc Alphand and Gilles Picard were the first crew into the opening stage and that was always going to be a disadvantage for the French duo. But their cause was not helped when they collected a puncture and were not able to stop and make a change
The first Dakar rider left the parc ferme in Lisbon at 06.30 a.m. to cover a 115 km liaison to the start of the first special stage of this 2007 edition. After the start at 08.35 a.m. it was time for the 117 timed kilometres which were followed by the second liaison of the day, 260 km that took participants to the parc ferme in Portimao, with the first rider arriving at 01.00 p.m. The Repsol riders were the last to leave the parc ferme at the Plaza do Imperio square. Jordi Viladoms started 225th at 07.35 a.m., followed by Giovanni Sala on 243th place at 8.01 a.m. and the last one to leave the parc ferme was defending Dakar winner Marc Coma, who started 245th at 08.05 a.m. Caution was the dominating feature in the Team Repsol KTM, and their riders finished in back positions, preferring not to take any unnecessary risks in this stage being still on European ground. 2006 Dakar winner Marc Coma was thirteenth and his team mates Giovanni Sala and Jordi Viladoms finished twentieth and twenty-first.
Tomorrow (Sunday) is the second and final European stage of the Dakar Rally on Portuguese territory, after which crews will head for Malaga to board the ferry that will take the Dakar caravan to Nador in Morocco. Tomorrow's stage will consist of an extended 67km WRC-style special stage after a 15km run out from the start in Portimao. Participants will then cover a 463km to Malaga to start with the pre-boarding formalities before the sea crossing to Africa on Sunday night. The first motorbike will leave the parc ferme tomorrow at 07.20 a.m.
Dominique Serieys, Team Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart Sporting Director
"Maybe we underestimated the pace at the front of the field today. Nani is nearly five minutes behind the leader and that is something we need to address. We will up the pace a little, because we do not want to leave too much work for Africa and Mauritania in particular. I take my hat off to Volkswagen today. They did a good job and it just emphasises that we will have quite a fight on our hands to retain the title. One big positive is that there were no mechanical problems with any of our cars and this is a major bonus."
"The first day has gone well. The stage has been very difficult and the turbo diesel cars went very well on this ground. Moreover, there were a lot of people and it was very dangerous to drive. In one point of the route I hit a tree when avoiding a spectator and, although I fortunately did not loose time, it's been very dangerous and a big fright. There was one part of the route in which there was a huge crowd on the track and that makes it very dangerous, forcing you to drive very carefully. But well, everything worked out in the end and I was able to drive calm without making any mistakes."
"I knew that the pace would be high on the rally this year. So we need to keep in touch without taking any risks. I want to make a proper race and that means being very clean through the next stage in Europe. The margin of error is getting smaller all the time as the pace increases. We saw last year there were accidents for me, for Carlos and for 'Nani' on rallies, so this must be taken into account."
"The aim of the first leg was trying to loose the least possible time and not taking any risks. The special has been quite different to what we are used to and I think that the most important was passing it without any mishaps. We have found a lot of sand and the special got more and more complicated, with more and more wheel tracks and a lot of slower riders to be overtaken. I didn't want to take any risk, I've been relaxed and we are where we wanted to be, ready to continue tomorrow in the same line."
"Today's special has been quite hard. Our strategy for today was that I should wait for Marc; once he got me, we went together for the rest of the stage. We covered the first few kilometres without pushing too much and that allowed us to reach the finish without any problem. Fortunately I'm not too tired. Everything worked out fine."
"This first special has been much harder than expected. It's been completely on sand, on a very narrow and bumpy track. It's been hard, because we had to work a lot on the bike and I'm not at a 100% yet, so this is the worst we could face. On the other hand I'm happy because if I've been able to stand this with my leg, everything will be going better as the rally goes by and I get a better pace. We had fog during the liaison, fortunately it was gone during the timed section. But the special was crowded with riders. We started in reverse order of last year's standings so we had to overtake a lot of people forcing us to be extremely careful."