Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart team driver Joan 'Nani' Roma and co-driver Henri Magne set the sixth fastest time in the first African stage of this year's Dakar Rally between Nador and Er Rachidia in Morocco. But they now hold the outright lead in the overall classification, today (Monday).
Capping a successful day for the Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart Team, Japan's Hiroshi Masuoka and French co-driver Pascal Maimon set the second fastest time in another Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero Evolution behind French stage winner Jean-Louis Schlesser.
Team mates Stéphane Peterhansel and Luc Alphand completed the stage in third and 11th places and now hold sixth and ninth in the overall classification. Roma and co-driver Henri Magne had begun the day in fourth place, before arriving in Er Rachidia as the overall leaders.
"I am very surprised and happy to be leading" said Roma. "I just tried to reach the finish without any mistakes. I had no real problems and I will continue with this strategy tomorrow - just drive and make no mistakes. It is dangerous to push in the dust. At one point there were 10 or 15 bikes together."
Today's 314 kms stage offered a mixture of twisty gravel tracks, technical off-road sections, the occasional perilous wadi crossing and some navigation. It finished at Beni Tadjite, 121 kms from the overnight bivouac, adjacent to the small elevated airstrip at Er Rachidia.
Masuoka and French co-driver Maimon, with whom he won the Dakar Rally for the first time in 2002, held third overall through the opening passage control at the 122 kms point this morning, but were the first car across the finish line after starting sixth on the road.
"Today there was a lot of dust," said Masuoka. "We drove for about 200 kms with Carlos (Sainz), Luc and (Nasser) Al-Attiyah. Then I overtook Luc, Carlos lost his way a little and I was in second position. Then I overtook Nasser and was first at the end of the stage. There were many motorcycles."
Peterhansel and co-driver Jean-Paul Cottret entered Africa in 10th position in the overall standings and rose to sixth place. "Today's stage was difficult with the number of bikes and cars running closely together," said Peterhansel. "I kept my distance to avoid the dust and to avoid having any problems in some big holes in the rocky tracks."
Alphand and co-driver Gilles Picard began the first African stage behind the early leader Carlos Sainz, but slipped to ninth in the results after losing time in rivals' dust.
"We let Carlos, Nasser and Hiroshi passed us today and then we were in dust," said Alphand. "If you want to finish the stage safely you need to leave a gap behind the car in front in the dust. It was just like a long train of cars and bikes today. There was no chance to get into a rhythm."
"We opted for a safe strategy over the first few days in Morocco, but it is very pleasing to be, not only in touch with our rivals, but actually leading the rally with the first two places," said Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart Team Director Dominique Serieys. "'Nani' has really benefited from his recent experience and again proved that we have four drivers who can win the Dakar this year."
"I told our drivers that Volkswagen are the main rivals, but we should also watch out for Jean-Louis Schlesser and Robbie Gordon and 'Schless' proved the point and was the fastest today. We will maintain our strategy and see what develops. But it was a good day for us."
Tomorrow (Tuesday) is the longest special stage of the event so far, starting 56 kms from Er Rachidia, north of Erfoud, and finishing 197 kms from Ouarzazate, near the town of Tagounite. The 386 kms special offers a fine balance of twisty and rocky tracks, high-speed roads, laterite piste and stretches of treacherous sand.
Press release Mitsubishi Motors