Dakar : Mitsubishi Motors - Leg 6
The sixth stage of the 2009 Dakar Rally between San Rafaël and Mendoza marked a day that Team Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart would rather forget, after team co-driver Gilles Picard was taken ill on the special stage and forced the immediate
retirement of his driver Luc Alphand from the race.
Team mates Stephane Peterhansel and Joan « Nani » Roma finished the stage with the fifth and sixth fastest times, but now hold fifth and fourth in the overall standings, following the withdrawal of Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah. Both drivers now face an uphill struggle to regain the lost time to outright leader Giniel de Villiers over the coming days.
Today's special stage was originally shortened from 394km to 232km and then to 178km because of the risk of standing water caused by recent rainfall. Event officials sent a route vehicle into the stage on Wednesday to monitor a river crossing which was already 80cm high and the decision was taken to skip the section on safety grounds.
Mitsubishi's mechanics finally completed the work on Peterhansel's and Jean-Paul Cottret's « Racing Lancer » just before the pair were scheduled to leave the bivouac and head into the liaison section to the sixth stage to Mendoza.
Peterhansel had incurred a 15-minute penalty in San Rafaël on Wednesday evening for missing a time control. He eventually set the fifth fastest time.
Luc Alphand was forced to withdraw from the Dakar Rally 12km after the start of the stage this morning, when co-driver Gilles Picard was taken ill assisting Alphand in putting plates under a wheel when they were stuck in a deep mud hole. As a precaution he was airlifted to the bivouac in San Rafaël for medical checks, but Alphand was unable to continue. Picard then underwent an electro-cardiogram test and everything was normal.
Joan « Nani » Roma and Lucas Cruz Senra held sixth position through the opening passage control and maintained his position to the stage finish.
Tomorrow marks the crossing into Chile and the most varied of the days in this year's Dakar Rally timetable. Teams leave Mendoza and head into an 80km liaison section, before embarking upon a punishing 419km special stage over twisty mountain tracks in the Andes.
The stage starts near Nueva Californi and winds its way in a north-westerly direction towards the first and second passage controls, before heading south to PC3 and on to a finish at the tourist town of Uspallata in the Andes foothills.
Service vehicles, rally cars and support trucks will cross the border on a sealed surface road at a height of 3,275 metres above sea level between Punta de Vacas and Puenta del Inca, before making the steep descent on to the coastal plain into Chile. The towering peak of Aconcagua, rising to 6959 metres, will be a spectacular sight to the right and is the highest peak in South America.
The entire Dakar caravan will arrive at the overnight halt in Valparaiso on Chile's Pacific Coast after a further 317km liaison section.
Dominique Serieys - Team Director :
« The rally has really begun over the last 48 hours and the classification is beginning to move. I must say congratulations to Nasser and BMW for their performance over the last few days. They did a great job, fighting and leading. For us, we have now lost Luc and will concentrate more strongly to apply the pressure on Volkswagen and not leave them alone. Now we have to react and change our strategy. We will see next week. »
Luc Alphand :
« Of course we are disappointed, but some things are more important than racing. I must admit I was very scared when I saw Gilles fall down. The mud hole was so deep. It was impossible for us to get out. Even the T4 truck had problems getting us out. We were very close to the road book, maybe only a few meters from the track, but it was our mistake that we were slightly wrong and that is racing ? »
Jean-Paul Cottret :
« The last two stages have been hard. The dunes have not been easy. There were trees, grass and other vegetation and it was not easy to find a good path. Today, after the start, we passed through some terrain with a lot of vegetation and it was difficult. Tomorrow is another difficult stage. There is a large section of fesh-fesh, a row of dunes and then we head into the mountains. »
Stéphane Peterhansel :
« The mechanics did a fantastic job to get my car ready for this morning. I really thought the rally was over yesterday after the accident. We are now in fifth position, but 'Nani' and I are some way behind the leaders. It will not be easy at all to catch them. There are some long and difficult stages to come, but it is a case of finding where we can, perhaps, make up some of the time. »
Joan « Nani » Roma :
« Every day is difficult. Today we lost another car, but the main thing is the health of Gilles. I know when I have lost a race after an accident your head spins a lot, but the most important thing is the safety of our team. I try every day to go for the win, but 30 minutes is a long time. I will try and push a little, but we will have to see over the next few days. »