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Cautious start to punishing Dakar Rally
Dakar : Mitsubishi Motors - Leg 1
Team Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart made a cautious start to their challenge for an eighth successive victory in the 2009 Dakar Rally on the opening 371km special stage between Buenos Aires and Santa Rosa de la Pampa in Argentina on Saturday.

Luc Alphand and co-driver Gilles Picard (both France) led the Japanese team's four 'Racing Lancers' in fifth position. Team mates Stéphane Peterhansel and Jean-Paul Cottret (both France) were sixth and Joan 'Nani' Roma and Lucas Cruz Senra (both Spain) held eighth overall in a third BFGoodrich-shod 'Racing Lancer'.

Unofficial figures estimated that over 500,000 rally fans and spectators witnessed the ceremonial start of the 2009 Dakar Rally and the parade around the streets and wide avenues of Buenos Aires on Friday evening.

At times, people thronged 10 deep in the streets to watch, photograph and cheer the competitors in the 530 vehicles that left the parc ferme area at La Rural Exhibition Centre and journeyed through the city to the official start at the Obelisk on the Avenue of the 9th July.

Two hundred and seventeen bikes, 25 quads, 177 cars and 81 trucks eventually passed scrutineering checks and headed into the opening timed special stage to Santa Rosa de la Pampa on Saturday morning.

The stage was expected to be fast and dusty, an ideal shakedown for competitors before the rigours of Patagonia, the Andes mountains and the Atacama desert of the coming days.

Mitsubishi's four 'Racing Lancer' drivers began cautiously, as they had planned, and were running behind the leaders after the opening passage control, with Hiroshi Masuoka (Japan) and co-driver Pascal Maimon (France) leading the way. Roma led the Japanese quartet in 10th position through PC2, where Alphand and Peterhansel was classified 11th and 13th, but Masuoka hit trouble after the second passage control and lost his provisional ninth place on the stage.

The Japanese suffered an engine pulley problem and he stopped 190km from the start. He was forced to wait for the rapid assistance truck before repairs could be carried out.

Tomorrow (Sunday) marks the longest day of the entire event a punishing 837km section between Santa Rosa de la Pampa and the tourist centre of Puerto Madryn, the head town of the Viedma department in the Patagonian province of Chubut.

The day's competitive action begins close to the overnight bivouac and extends for 237km, offering tricky navigation and a mixture of fast gravel and sandy sections, with two passage controls.
The bulk of the day is made up of a tiring 600km liaison section across the Rio Negro and passes the Rio Colorado and General Conesa to arrive at Puerto Madryn near the Atlantic coast, the Gulf of San Matias and the entrance to the Valdes Peninsula.

Dominique Serieys, Team Director
"This is only the start of the rally. It is disappointing that something happened for Hiroshi, because he was on a good pace. But we are quite happy with the performance of the other cars. Congratulations to Nasser (Al-Attiyah) on a good result, but we need to make sure that we are not under pressure. We will check little things each night, as the rally progresses, but this is just a fast section of a rally that also includes many varied tracks. We need to cross this area. That is the route. On the Dakar you have fast tracks, twisty, camel grass and dunes. This is just a small part."

Luc Alphand
"The main target today was not to lose too much time on the fast stage. Nasser (Al-Attiyah) drove very well and has a good top speed. I think we would have lost a lot more time if it was last year's car.. We are here, but are all driving cautiously with the new engine. It is a long, long race and today's stage was dusty and potentially dangerous. When you cannot see where you go in the dust it is always difficult.The car has excellent torque and handles very well. This new chassis is very good and it feels very stable at high speed."

Stéphane Peterhansel
"It is never easy to be the first car on the stage, especially the first stage of the Dakar, when we are the first crew to pass the bikes. After a few cars it is always easier. My rhythm was not so good, but the car was okay. The top speed could be higher, but I drove very safely this morning because it was dangerous in the dust and I preferred to start slowly.

"Tomorrow will be the same kind of stage, but maybe a little bit shorter. We need to wait. It will be a long liaison afterwards, but the stability is not so bad and we have a top speed of about 180 km/h. Maybe I drove a little too safe today."

Joan 'Nani' Roma
"It was not an easy day at all. There were a lot of bikes, lots of dust and it was easy to make a mistake. It was a case of getting the feeling for the pace and the new car. But, we are here, and that is important. This car actually feels different to the old car. It has more torque, but maybe we need a little more power at the top end. Tomorrow is another day, but we have a long way to go."

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