Dakar : Mitsubishi Motors - Leg 7
Team Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart's chances of earning an eighth successive victory in the punishing Dakar Rally now rest with Joan 'Nani' Roma and Lucas Cruz Senra (both Spain), after Stéphane Peterhansel and Jean-Paul Cottret (both France)
were sidelined with engine problems on the seventh stage, near Mendoza, in Argentina.
Roma and Peterhansel had begun the stage behind a trio of Volkswagens and team director Dominique Serieys had issued a battle cry for his remaining two drivers to launch an assault and a serious challenge for the lead over the coming stages.
But Peterhansel's turbo-diesel 'Racing Lancer' sustained a small fire early in the stage. A terminal engine problem occurred after 114km and the nine-times Dakar winner was sidelined before the passage through the Andes into Chile.
Team mate Roma duly set the fourth fastest time and maintained fourth overall, but he trails overall leader Carlos Sainz (Spain) by 29m 16s heading into the final week of the event, which reaches a climax in Buenos Aires on Sunday, January 18th. Sainz has a nine-second lead over his team mate Giniel de Villiers (South Africa).
Before what is becoming one of the toughest Dakars in the events 30-year history crossed the mighty Andes mountain range on Friday morning, crews tackled a shortened 243km special stage through some small dunes and a section of tricky fesh-fesh, before beginning a climb on to twistier tracks.
The stage had been shortened from its original 419 km because of recent thunderstorms and flooding in the foothills of the Andes.
The entire Dakar caravan also used the main mountain link road to Chile that wound its way to the south of the towering snow-capped peak of Aconcagua - the highest peak in South America, rising to 6959 metres.
Tomorrow (Saturday) is the traditional rest day assigned to the Dakar Rally by the ASO. It marks a crucial opportunity for crews to take a much-needed rest and for mechanics to carry out full repairs to the cars without watching the clock and needing to finish in time for an early morning restart.
The rest day also marks the arrival of numerous guests, media and VIPs from Europe, all keen to share the atmosphere of this unique event.
Dominique Serieys, Team Director
"Even when we entered scrutineering in Buenos Aires I was not sure what would happen. My feeling is clear. When we decided to enter the diesel category with the 'Racing Lancer', we knew that the project would be for the medium term - 2009-2011.
"When you see that Volkswagen and BMW have been at this project for six years to be where they are today, we can say that in the very short term period we have reached the performance, but there are still several areas where we need to work and improve.
"Since I took charge of the team in 2001, my focus has been to be competitive. 'Nani' is still in a good position and it is still possible for a competitor running alone to win the race. There is always only one winner. I hope he keeps a healthy car next week and we can take a podium finish or even a better place."
Joan 'Nani' Roma
"It is not easy for us now. It is a different situation every day. Everybody is working for the win and pushing hard. The engineers and mechanics in Japan and France have worked really hard to know the engine. Today it is better. It was much better yesterday and I hope we can try to push through the second week. Okay, I don't have a car for support, but I will try my best to take the best result possible."
Thierry Viardot, Technical Director
"For sure, this has been a learning curve but this is part of Dakar. This is not a question of luck. This is a question of time and effort. It is not a surprise. We knew before we came that this rally would be difficult. We like difficult things. We have not enough experience with the new car and we made a mistake. Fifty per cent of me thinks that 'Nani' should try and reach the finish now and the other 50% of me says push as hard as possible to make it interesting. We know we have some capacity that we have not shown until now."