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Peterhansel and Alphand storm into contention for victory
Dakar : Mitsubishi Motors - Leg 7
The Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart Team leapt into contention to retain their Dakar Rally title for the sixth successive time, when Frenchman Stéphane Peterhansel and co-driver Jean-Paul Cottret set the fastest time on the grueling special stage
between Zouérat and Atar in Mauritania and team mates Luc Alphand and Gilles Picard moved into the overall lead after setting the second fastest time, today (Friday).
Peterhansel and Cottret, the defending champions, were fastest through the opening passage control and maintained their momentum through the grueling latter part of the first all-desert stage of this year's Dakar to leap from ninth to second overall, 3m 12s behind their team mates. It was on the stage between Zouérat and Tichit, 12 months ago to the very day, that Peterhansel had stamped his authority on proceedings in Mauritania and moved into the outright lead.

"It was a very difficult stage with many sand dunes and some camel grass," said Peterhansel. "The emphasis was on good navigation and not getting stuck. I had a puncture and we lost some time inflating and deflating the tires. It was necessary. But it was a very positive day for us."

The French pairing of Alphand and Gilles Picard began the day in fifth place and pushed home the Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart team's supremacy in the desert by moving into the overall lead, 5m 58s ahead of their nearest non-Mitsubishi rival Jutta Kleinschmidt, who held third overall.

"It is nice to be in front at the end of the first real desert stage," said Alphand. "But there is a long way to go. I hurt my neck a little and suffered a strain after a heavy landing, but not too serious. I got stuck four times today in total and think we lost around 15 minutes in the camel grass. But I am very happy to have arrived in Atar at this time without serious problems when there are so many teams still in the desert."

Team mates Joan 'Nani' Roma and Henri Magne were classified 10th through the first passage control and eventually reached the finish of the stage in seventh place to climb to sixth in the unofficial overall standings.

Tomorrow (Saturday) is the final special stage before Sunday's rest day at the windy coastal city of Nouakchott, Mauritanian's commercial capital. A 34 kms liaison takes crews south-west from Atar to the start of a 508 kms special across western Mauritania. The stage crosses several canyons and wadis and there are numerous fast sections across a variety of track surfaces. The stage finishes by Ouad Naga, 26 kms east of Nouakchott.
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