Baja Portalegre Raid: Mitsubishi Motors
Mitsubishi Motors Repsol Team driver Luc Alphand and co-driver Gilles Picard held the outright lead in the 19th Baja Anta Da Serra 500- Portalegre, after the opening leg of two selective sections held in torrential rain and very muddy
conditions to the south and north-west of Portalegre in eastern Portugal, today (Saturday).
But there was disappointment for Japanese team mate Hiroshi Masuoka and his French co-driver Pascal Maimon. They were forced to retire the team's second Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero Evolution when thick mud caused the alternator belt to slip and break shortly after the start of the second selective section.
Both drivers had quickly settled into a competitive pace through the opening kilometers and held the outright lead and fourth place after the first 175 kms timed selective of the day. But the longer afternoon stage brought about Masuoka's retirement and dropped Alphand down to third position when he collected two flat tyres.
Rivals Carlos Sainz. and Jutta Kleinschmidt were both delayed over the closing kilometers and Alphand moved back into the overall lead. He will take a 4m 28s advantage over Kleinschmidt into the final section on Sunday.
“When I collected two flat tires before 60 kms this afternoon, I really thought I was out of the rally," admitted Alphand, who lost around six minutes to the chasing pack. "There were 160 kms still to go. The mud tires were good in some ways. The car handled well under braking. Then it stopped raining. It was drier, but I decided to drive safely. Then I passed Carlos and realised that we were okay. It was time to ease off for the last 60 kms.
"This morning it was crazy. There were almost 40 kms like pure ice. It was thick mud through the trees. We were sliding so much. You braked into a corner for 300 meters and then you slid for 100 meters. Then you gained control again. The target was just to stay on the track. The only option was to use mud tyres for the second stage, even if there were some rocky sections."
Masuoka agreed with his team mate's point of view after the opening stage, as team mechanics replaced the driver's door on his Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero Evolution and removed some loose wire tangled up and trailing from the rear axle of his car. "We slid wide on a muddy corner and just drifted into a tree," said Masuoka. "It was so slippery out there, very difficult."
"I am very proud and happy that Luc is leading this evening and is ahead of the WRC drivers Carlos Sainz and Bruno Saby," said a delighted MMSP's Team Director Dominique Serieys. "We must remember we are using the MPR10 version of the Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution we used on the Dakar 2004. We learned a lot. Hiroshi was really fast on the first section this afternoon before the alternator problem. This is good experience for us and we will protect this component on the Dakar.
"Luc chose the mud tire this afternoon, but he was on the same pace as Carlos and this was very encouraging."
There was disappointment for the Mitsubishi Portugal entrant Armindo Araújo. The Portuguese national rally champion was forced to retire when his GALP and TMN-backed Mitsubishi L200 Pick-Up developed clutch problems on the first stage.
Tomorrow (Sunday) is the final day of the event. Alphand and Picard will tackle a single timed 100 kms selective section, shorter but similar to Saturday's south-westerly opening stage near Portalegre. The day's proceedings will conclude with the podium and prizegiving at Nerpor Park on the outskirts of the mist-shrouded town.
Overall positions after leg 1
1 Alphand-Picard Mitsubishi Pajero 5h38'45"4
2 Kleinschmidt-Pons Volkswagen Touareg 5h43'14"3
3 Sainz-Schulz Volkswagen Touareg 5h50'43"0
4 Saby-Périn Volkswagen Touareg 5h54'17"4
5 Ramos-Jesus Toyota Rav-4 5h54'20"1
6 Miller-Zitzewitz Volkswagen Touareg 5h58'49"6
Press Release Mitsubishi Motors