Dakar Rally : Mitsubishi Motors - Leg 3
Team Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart drivers Stéphane Peterhansel, Luc Alphand, Hiroshi Masuoka and Joan 'Nani' Roma completed the 252 km special between Nador and Er Rachidia in Morocco in third, fourth, seventh and eighth places on Monday.
They will now start the fourth special stage of the 29th Dakar Rally on Tuesday morning with all four cars inside the top eight in the overall classification.
The Mitsubishi quartet had begun the first day of the race in Africa in fourth, fifth, eighth and 12th positions and now hold fourth, sixth, seventh and eighth overall, as they continue to apply the pressure on early rally leaders Carlos Sainz, Giniel de Villiers and Carlos Sousa from the rival Volkswagen team.
Stéphane Peterhansel and Jean-Paul Cottret were the fastest of the Mitsubishi crews on today's stage, the French pair pipping defending champions and team mates Luc Alphand and Gilles Picard by 24 seconds in bright, sunny conditions in North Africa.
"It was not easy at all," said Peterhansel. "The stage was not so long, but very hard. There was a lot of dust. Maybe we passed more than 100 bikes and that means you need to take care. I took no risks. I prefer not to open the stage in the morning, so I have a good position now. We know the beginning of the stage well, but it will be a long day. Normally in Morocco the stages are around 300km, but this will be much longer.
Alphand began the stage behind Spaniard Carlos Sainz and team mates Joan 'Nani' Roma and Lucas Cruz. Alphand lost a couple of minutes to his rivals before the first passage control, but maintained a measured pace over the closing kilometres to secure the fourth fastest time and move up four places in the overall standings.
"I started quite slowly, because I did not want to get a puncture," said Alphand. "Over the first 25km there were some big rocks and maybe we drove a little too slowly. There was lots of dust and too many bikes to overtake. Afterwards we finished much better. There were a couple of tiny diversions on two parallel tracks, but nothing too serious."
Japan's Hiroshi Masuoka and French co-driver Pascal Maimon began brightly this morning and were running fastest on the road in the early kilometres, before slipping behind Sainz and De Villiers. They were the fastest of the Mitsubishi crews at the first passage control, 28 seconds ahead of Roma and Cruz, but eventually finished the special in seventh position after damaging the power-assisted steering while overtaking a motorcycle competitor in dusty conditions on a rock-lined track 90km from the stage finish.
"Ninety kilometres before the finish there were four bikes and one quad in a wadi, with a lot of dust," said Masuoka. "We touched a big stone and damaged the power steering. It was very difficult to finish the stage."
Joan 'Nani' Roma and Mitsubishi team debutant Lucas Cruz were the second crew on the stage this morning in a fourth Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero Evolution, but a puncture cost them over six minutes and the crew slipped to seventh in the overall rankings after the passage control.
"Not so good today," said Roma. "I had two punctures and a shock absorber problem. The jack was not working properly and we had to change the wheel manually. I expected to be around 15th at the end of the stage, so eighth was okay, because I lost my concentration a little after the punctures and the delays cost me six minutes It was frustrating."
"It is a nice feeling to finish my first African special stage with Mitsubishi," said co-driver Lucas Cruz. "But it was not easy. It was difficult to take the right road. There were many junctions and parallel pistes.
"We know that Volkswagen are pushing, but the rally has started in a similar fashion to last year," said MMSP's Managing and Sporting Director Dominique Serieys. "Last year Stéphane lost some minutes with illness and a puncture and 'Nani' had the puncture today. There are three days in Morocco and it appears each of the teams have a different strategy. Hiroshi was very fast this morning. That is very pleasing.
"We know that this area of Morocco is not to our advantage. The higher altitude in the mountains seems to suit the Volkswagens better. The leading VWs will need to open the track tomorrow, so we will bide our time and be patient. In Tan Tan, last year, Stéphane was some way behind and it all changed in Mauritania. We will keep calm and look at the situation very carefully in Atar on the rest day next Saturday."