The four crews and cars* that will spearhead the Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart Team's bid to secure a record eighth consecutive Dakar win for Mitsubishi have successfully completed the pre-start scrutineering formalities which took place this morning in Lisbon.
The four Pajero/Montero Evolution MPR13s have now been placed in parc ferme – on the picturesque Praça do Imperio in the centre of the Portuguese capital – in readiness for the official start of the 2008 event and the first taste of competitive action on Saturday, January 5.
With the final countdown to the 30th edition of the celebrated African marathon now well under way, the team still faces a busy schedule of media and PR functions, autograph-signing sessions and briefings before 2007 Dakar winners Stéphane Peterhansel (France) and Jean-Paul Cottret (France) lead the car field off the starting ramp shortly after 8am local time Saturday morning.
Peterhansel himself is feeling particularly buoyant and his mood was in no way dampened by today's showery weather: "The team's final preparations went very smoothly which means we had a fairly long, welcome break over the festive period," reported the nine-time Dakar winner (six wins on two wheels, three with Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero Evolution). "I made the most of the rest to spend some time at home in Switzerland and do a little skiing. Today's scrutineering marked the start of serious business and you can feel the pressure beginning to climb. The team has everything under control, however, and I have to say that Lisbon is such a pleasant place to hold the start."
Former skiing champion and 2006 Dakar winner Luc Alphand (France) also profited from the Christmas break to indulge in a little winter sports and relax, but he is now visibly raring to go: "Scrutineering is always a long day but we didn't have any problems and all four cars are now in parc ferme ready for the off on Saturday," said the Frenchman who finished second behind Peterhansel on last January's Dakar.
"After the months and months of preparations, the fact that we are here in Lisbon today means that the start is imminent and it was great to see so many spectators brave the rain to give us such an enthusiastic welcome. That's all part of the atmosphere; I love it."
"The build-up to the start of the Dakar is always something very special which you don't get on any other event," explained Spain's Nani Roma between having his photo taken and signing autographs. "We're kept busy all the time but that's only natural. There is so much media interest and that is obviously extremely positive for us, for the event and for Mitsubishi…"
Every bit as much in the lime-light as his team-mates, Hiroshi Masuoka profited from his different interviews with the media to underline his objective for the 2008 Dakar: "This is the last Dakar for the Pajero as a factory car and it would be fantastic to see it end its glittering career with a 13th win," promised the Japanese driver who secured four consecutive top-two finishes on the Dakar between 2001 and 2004, including victories in 2002 and 2003. "I would love to be the driver who gives it to one last victory and I will do everything I can to that end. And if it's not me who wins, I would be very happy to score another podium finish…"
"Preparing for the Dakar is a year-long operation," emphasized Dominique Serieys, the Team Director of the Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart Team. "Even so, you really begin to feel the tension rise when you see all your vehicles and team-members leave the factory in Pont de Vaux, France, for the 2,000km trip to Lisbon, and then when you turn up at scrutineering. Thanks to all the careful planning that went in upstream of our arrival in Portugal, I'm pleased to say that everything went very smoothly for us this morning. All the light service vehicles and the four Pajero/Montero Evolutions have been given the green light and there are just the trucks to get through scrutineering tomorrow (Friday). It's time now to focus our attention on the two relatively short stages that will take place this weekend. The important thing will be to keep out of trouble because there is always more to lose than gain on this type of test before the real action kicks off with the first African stage in Morocco on Monday. Our objective then will be to stay in contact with the front-runners before the event arrives in Mauritania which once again promises to be the big challenge."