Morocco : Mitsubishi Motors - Leg 5
Team Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart driver Stéphane Peterhansel reduced Giniel de Villiers's overnight lead from 5m 31s to 1m 51s after the shortened penultimate leg of the Orpi Rally of Morocco between Zagora and Ouarzazate today (Sunday).
The Frenchman and co-driver Jean-Paul Cottret set their first fastest time of the event to maintain second overall and set up a grandstand climax to the fourth round of this year's FIA Coss-Country Rally World Cup. Team mates Joan ‘Nani' Roma and Hiroshi Masuoka remain in fifth and sixth overall.
Today's selective section ran between Zagora in the Valley of the Draa and the tourist town of Ouarzazate and, predictably, there were further amendments. A revised transfer, extended from 13 km to 167 km, took Team Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart crews to the start of a shortened 185 km selective section, with a similar 80 km liaison steering competitors into Ouarzazate.
The intended route passed through several mountain villages in the High Atlas mountain range. Speed restrictions of 30 km/h were in place in built-up areas. The stage passed near the uranium mine at Bleida and skirted the village of Tazenakht and on to the plain of Issil before teams reached the finish near the Taghdoute dam.
Peterhansel began the day 5m 31s behind overnight leader Giniel de Villiers and pledged to attack at all costs on today's fifth special.
He had passed Jean-Louis Schlesser by the first passage control and began to pull away from the Buggy driver.
But at the second passage control, Peterhansel was a mere two seconds ahead of overall leader De Villiers – running third on the road - and was not able to make in-roads into the South African's advantage until De Villiers sustained the first of two punctures before the third passage control. The leading Mitsubishi arrived at the stage finish 3m 40s ahead of De Villiers and Peterhansel now trails the 2003 winner by 1m 51s with one stage remaining around Ouarzazate on Monday morning.
“In the mountains I saw Giniel behind me, but then it was not possible to check his position again,” said Peterhansel. “I tried to keep a good rhythm all the time, but it was not easy at the end. My tires were completely destroyed. I had no grip at the front or the back. It was a little dangerous. I passed Jean-Louis near PC1. Near the end we passed six small hills, but it was not easy to drive too fast on the last section. But now we have a real fight on our hands for the final day.”
Roma and Andorra-based co-driver Henri Magne had been seventh fastest at the first passage control and reached PC2 over a minute quicker than Schlesser, but two minutes behind the leading quartet. They were classified third at PC3 and eventually set the second fastest time to maintain fifth place.
“I made a mistake in a wadi before the first passage control and had to turn around,” said Roma. “This cost me around one minute, but I pushed hard after that to try and set the fastest time.”
Masuoka and French co-driver Pascal Maimon had been the fastest car in the stage at PC1 – two seconds ahead of Sainz - and the second quickest at PC2, when Sainz edged two seconds ahead. The Japanese eventually recorded the third fastest time at the stage finish and maintained sixth overall, after stopping to change one flat tire after the third passage control and arriving at the stage finish with a slow rear puncture.
“Today our drivers drove a great stage,” said MMSP's Team Director Dominique Serieys. “I think the performance of our rivals was a wake-up call for us all and now we are fighting back and have a really good chance to take the win. This is a race over six days and we are coming on strong near the finish. We will see tomorrow, but now we have put ourselves in a great position to attack on the final stage.”
Tomorrow (Monday) is the final selective section of this year's Orpi Rally of Morocco. Last year Stéphane Peterhansel had dominated the event, only to retire with broken suspension on the final stage. On this occasion his quest is to overhaul Giniel de Villiers on the last competitive 222 km, which starts on a narrow piste through the mountains of the Atlas foothills and heads into technical sections with a risk of punctures.
After passing the village of Tazenakht, the route reaches the Oasis of Flint, the Tizi Ouigrane pass at 1500 meters above sea level and onwards through the valley of Assif Aït Douchchen to a finish at the Tisgui Illane Oued dam, near Ouarzazate.
Press Release Mitsubishi Motors