Dakar Rally : Mitsubishi Motors - Leg 8
Team Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart applied fierce pressure on rivals and leaders Volkswagen on the longest stage of the entire 2007 Dakar Rally - the punishing 589km special between Atar and Tichit in Mauritania on Sunday.
hundred and twenty-seven of the original 180 starters left the start in Atar on Sunday morning and Mitsubishi's Stéphane Peterhansel and Jean-Paul Cottret moved into second position in the overall standings by setting the second fastest time.
The French duo are now 31m 13s behind overall rally leader and stage winner Giniel de Villiers, while team mates Luc Alphand and Gilles Picard were third fastest and now hold third overall.
Peterhansel and Cottret began the stage behind de Villiers, but the South African had extended his overall lead over the twice former winners by 13m 55s at the 201km point when the Frenchman had two punctures and lost time in soft sand. Peterhansel hit back into the next PC at 357km and reduced the leader's on-stage lead to 6m 48s. The margin was identical at the final PC as the paid headed across the camel grass towards Tichit, with De Villiers eventually winning the stage by 6m 35s.
"I had two punctures today after just 30km," groaned Peterhansel. "We had one after six kilometres, we were stuck after 22km and then another flat tire again at 28km.
What a start to a 589km stage! With a full tank of fuel and spare parts, the car was very heavy on the big rocks, so we always ran a risk of flat tires. It was also difficult to cross the dunes with a heavy car.
"After the punctures I only had one spare wheel for more than 550km, so I just had to be very careful and take no risks. If I had punctured again, I would have needed to wait for Hiroshi or 'Nani' and that would have cost even more time. I was waiting for the hard stage today and I made a mistake. Now I have to plan another attack tomorrow."
Alphand and Picard were classified third at the first passage control, albeit 6m 34s behind De Villiers and fourth at PC2. They maintained their momentum through the remainder of the stage to record the third fastest time.
"It was a tough and very long stage," said Alphand. "We were stuck twice in the sand in the first dunes and had to deflate and inflate. Then we had to change one wheel near the end when we had a slow puncture. In total, we stopped five times. You cannot expect to win the stage when this happens and you lose 20 minutes. But a big positive is that there are no problems at all with the car for the Marathon stage."
Hiroshi Masuoka and Pascal Maimon began the stage in fourth place, but were forced to stop at the 25km point with clutch problems. The crew benefited from the quick-change technology of the clutch in Mitsubishi's new MPR13, but still lost 1h 19m changing the clutch and replacing no less than four flat tires. The Japanese reached the first passage control in 4h 05m, 1h 13m behind team mate Alphand and in 29th place. He went on to record the ninth fastest time and slipped to eighth overall.
"I had four punctures today, as well as the problem with the clutch," said Masuoka. "I am very disappointed after the rest day when the whole car was rebuilt. 'Nani' stopped and gave me one tire and then I drove 500km with no spare tires, But this is life."
Joan 'Nani' Roma and Lucas Cruz were classified 23rd at the start of the special. The cylinder head had been successfully replaced at the rest day by team technicians, although Roma admitted that his position within the team had changed to a support role for his team mates. Unfortunately, they lost over 90 minutes before PC1 with clutch problems and further time later in the stage with a down-on-power engine and unofficially finished the stage in 12th position.
"This morning the clutch broke in the first dunes at about 28km and we had to stop and change it," said Roma. "Then, about 120km from the end of the stage the engine started to splutter a little and it was not possible to push harder. I think it a sensor fault or a minor electrical problem. Hopefully the race truck mechanics can take a look at it tonight."
"It was one of those days where Stéphane and Luc lost time in the sand and had flat tires," said MMSP's Managing and Sporting Director Dominique Serieys. "But both the cars are in good condition and we will try and gain some time on Monday. It was never going to be an easy stage, but we are still very much in contention and that is important."