The Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart Team completed the final European stage of the 28th Dakar Rally in second, fourth, fifth and sixth positions, today (Sunday).
The French pairing of Luc Alphand and Gilles Picard now lead the four-car team in a threatening second position in the overall
classification after Sunday's 115 kms special stage in the hills above the Portuguese Algarve. Their three team mates hold third, sixth and 10th places, with Spaniard Carlos Sainz maintaining the outright lead of the event out of Europe.
The stage across higher ground above the Algarve was drier and faster than the opening day's and took place on narrow, flowing tracks in remote farmland and upland terrain. There was the additional risk for the leaders of having to pass slower quads and motorbikes running at the rear of their category, although hanging dust was not a factor.
Alphand and Picard began the stage in sixth position on the road and quickly began a move up the leaderboard to record the second fastest time and head into Africa sandwiched between their rivals Sainz and Frenchman Bruno Saby.
"I expected today's stage to be drier than yesterday, because of the slightly higher altitude," said Alphand. "The important thing was to stay in touch with the leaders without taking any risks and dropping too much time. It was a good day for me."
Joan 'Nani' Roma and Henri Magne had started the stage in fifth place in their Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero Evolution and set the fourth fastest time to move up to third overall.
"I had the same strategy for today's stage as Saturday," said Roma. "That was to take no risks at all. Now we can put Europe behind us and concentrate on the real Dakar. For me the Dakar Rally starts in Morocco on Monday morning."
Japanese driver Hiroshi Masuoka and French co-driver Pascal Maimon set the fourth fastest time today and head towards Morocco in sixth place in the overall standings.
Stéphane Peterhansel and co-driver Jean-Paul Cottret started the New Year with a second flat tire, but the French pair had been running as high as second overall in the stage. "We had to stop to change another tire and lost more time," said Peterhansel. "I will not have fond memories of my passage through Portugal on the Dakar Rally." The defending champions moved up to tenth nonetheless.
"I am very pleased with the way we finished the last stage in Europe," said Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart Team Director Dominique Serieys. "It is a good feeling to go to Africa with all four of our cars in the top 10. Stéphane had a puncture passing a motorbike, but everyone else drove very well and we can look ahead now to the start of a fresh challenge on Monday. Luc put in a great performance to finish so close to Carlos Sainz on a track which was more like a WRC stage."
"I am very happy with the way we have finished the European stages without any problems," said Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart Team President Isao Torii. "Our drivers put in great performances today and I am confident that we can maintain this progress in Africa next week."
Tomorrow (Monday) will be the first African special stage on the 28th Dakar Rally. After arriving at Nador, teams will embark upon a 237 kms liaison section to the start of a 314 kms special stage, east of Guercif. This section runs south towards the first overnight bivouac at Er Rachidia, crosses several wadis and requires navigational skills. A 121 kms road section will take teams to the overnight halt adjacent to the local airport at Er Rachidia.
Press release Mitsubishi Motors