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Mitsubishi head towards Mauritania in 4th, 5th, 7th and 8th places
Dakar Rally : Mitsubishi Motors - Leg 5
Team Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart completed the third and final Moroccan special stage of the 29th Dakar Rally handily-placed to mount a major challenge on their leading rivals, as the event heads across the border into the Islamic Republic
of Mauritania on Thursday morning.

Twice former winners Stéphane Peterhansel and Jean-Paul Cottret set the second fastest time, a mere 30 seconds behind the stage winner and overall rally leader Carlos Sainz, after 325km of high-speed driving through a wide variety of punishing roads. The French duo's performance duly pushed them up to seventh position in the overall standings.

"I feel better with our performance today, but it was not easy to set a fast time, starting 10th on the road this morning," said Peterhansel. "There were many stones and it was easy to get a puncture. My time was not my best, but it was easy to lose time and I slowed down. Tomorrow's stage is very fast and it will not be easy to gain too much time."

Team mates Luc Alphand/Gilles Picard and Joan 'Nani' Roma/Lucas Cruz set the fourth and fifth fastest times in their Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero Evolutions and reached the Tan Tan bivouac, classified fifth and fourth respectively, in the overall results.

"We had a puncture and when we changed the wheel a pin broke in the lid of the rear hatch and we had to stop again," said Alphand. "This cost us two minutes for repairs, so I lost three minutes for the wheel and two minutes for the pin. It was another frustrating day. Our pace is good, but we do not have the luck at the moment. Every day we are stopping for small things. If we lose five minutes every day it will not be possible to win the Dakar. Our luck needs to change."

"It was a long day and it was not easy," said Roma. "It was a technical stage and I had a puncture after 12km. I had to stop in one place and it was not good. Giniel passed me. The stage passed near where I had the accident on the Rally of Morocco in June and that was never going to be easy. I just had to concentrate. I am a little further behind than I would have liked and made a mistake with the flat tyre, but tomorrow is the start of a new race in Mauritania. The target is to reach Dakar, but it is not going to be easy to win. It is very hard this year."

Japan's Hiroshi Masuoka and French co-driver Pascal Maimon were well-placed at the first passage control, but lost over 10 minutes with three punctures. Masuoka, winner of the event in 2002 and 2003 and taking part in his 20th Dakar Rally this year, completed the stage in 10th place, albeit 12m 30s behind the overall rally leader. He now holds eighth in the overall classification, but is still close enough to the leaders to mount a serious challenge in Mauritania.

"We had a flat rear tire at 20km and then we had two more rear punctures in the next 120km," said Masuoka. "I could not understand why. I touched no rocks and then we had a flat. I was very careful after that and we still had two flat tires. I was scared then because I had no spare wheels left. If I had one more flat tire I would have been in trouble.

"We would have needed to wait for the assistance truck and that could have meant losing four or five hours. It was not good for my heart, the thought of getting another flat tire. But we were lucky and only dropped 10 minutes."

Today's special stage crossed sinuous mountain roads between the first and second passage controls and this route gave way to broken rocky tracks damaged by adverse weather conditions and fast roads with many treacherous wadis and ditches to catch out the unaware.

"Punctures were not the real issue today," said MMSP's Managing and Sporting Director Dominique Serieys. "Stephane, Luc and 'Nani' did a good job, even with two punctures for Luc and 'Nani'. In two days' time we will do another check and see if we are still losing time or whether we are wrong in our strategy. Three or four days in Mauritania will be very tough. Maybe we will be talking about differences of 30 minutes per day in a few days…"

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