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Hiroshi Masuoka, ambassador of Mitsubishi in Japan
Interview with Mitsubishi Repsol driver
Hiroshi Masuoka was born in Japan in March 1960 and now lives in Irurna, Saitama, in Japan with his wife Chiaki and son Shoichiro. He first began off-road racing in 1979 and attempted the Dakar for the first time in 1987.
In 1990
he finished first in the T2 category and then took fourth position four years later. Between 1995 and 2000 he finished inside the top 10 on six occasions, the highlight being a pair of fourth places in 1997 and 1998. He made the podium and runners-up spot the following season in a Mitsubishi Pajero, but his finest hour came in 2002 when he became only the second Japanese driver to win the Dakar Rally with the Mitsubishi Motors team.

Hiroshi took a second successive victory in 2003, in addition to a late win in the Baja Italy, and finished runner-up behind team mate Stéphane Peterhansel in 2004. After a quiet year, he returned to action in October to win the UAE Desert Challenge for the first time at his sixth attempt.

Masuoka, who has been racing the Dakar Rally since 1987, faced the 2005 edition in high spirits. But after a first incident, where he tore off a wheel of his Mitsubishi, the Japanese was forced to retire after the loop stage -Atar-Atar-, due to engine problems while being fifth overall.

His participation in races of the 2005 Cross Country Rally World Cup, was limited to two events together with his new co-driver, Frenchman Pascal Maimon. He took part in the Tunisia Rally in April taking a meritorious third place considering the countless mishaps he had to overcome. After an intensive test programme together with his team in Morocco and Chamonix, he took part in the Baja Portoalegre in October, a race that was marked by bad weather conditions and a very complicated terrain. As a consequence Masuoka was forced to retire after hitting a tree with his Mitsubishi Montero Evolution.

Unlike the rest of his raid mates, Hiroshi Masuoka does not spend his spare time doing sports. The Japanese is a big fan of reading and travelling, but above all, what he likes most doing is his spare time is enjoying his family.

What made you want to take part in the Dakar Rally?
I first participated in the Dakar Rally 18 years ago. Racing cars was my interest and I was lucky to get a breakthrough. My first race was in 1987. Since then I have taken part every year. It is a very difficult race and every day is so different. Each race is around 10,000 kms without any roads and something exciting happens every day. The excitement for me is driving for 16 days to challenge the race.

Is the desert your friend or your enemy?
It is my life and my friend. The desert is also my teacher. Every day I learn something new and that makes it such a challenge.

You are a long way away from Japan on the Dakar. How do you feel about this?
Africa is maybe my second home. I spend many weeks racing and testing each year. Language is different. Each country has different cultures and scenery and all the time I try and do my best and appreciate the views and the people I meet.

What is your impression of the new car?
The new car is very strong and very fast and I think it is the best car of its kind in the world. I am very happy to be in this team and working on the Dakar. I have a lot of confidence with the Pajero Evolution. Every year the team improves the performance and the speed. Now I feel that I can win the Dakar Rally for the third time. Last year was unlucky for me. It was a big mistake with the suspension settings in the soft sand and then we had a problem with the engine. This time it feels good. We drove 10,000 kms with the new engine in the desert in Morocco without any problems.

How do you communicate in the car with your co-driver?
It was funny when I drove with Andreas Schulz. I learned some words in "Bavarian", which is a special dialect from the south of Germany. Sometimes we laughed in the car. Now I have a French co-driver again and we can understand each other. I understand a little French, but if it's necessary we look into each other's eyes and we have hands to show the direction!

The food during the Dakar is very special. Do you like it?
I like the food and have no real problems. But I have my own Japanese noodle soup with me, to keep my stomach happy. After the stage is finished, I eat my noodle soup and the "world" is okay for me again.

You are the Mitsubishi and Dakar ambassador in Japan. What's your main job when you are not driving or testing?
I did a lot of advertising work for Mitsubishi Motors in the past. On behalf of the company I join important meetings, like dealer conventions or things like that. It's part of my life to represent Mitsubishi's motorsport culture and heritage in Japan.

How do you maintain your fitness?
I have my own fitness program to follow in Japan and I join the team's fitness program in Europe. This intensifies a couple of months before we start the Dakar. I am going to intensify my fitness program.

How often do you travel between Japan and Europe in a normal year?
Oh. I don't know exactly. Many times, for fitness training, rallies, team meetings and individual programs. Very often.
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