Dakar Rally : Mitsubishi Motors - Leg 14
Team Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart arrived in the Sénégalese capital of Dakar firmly in command of the 29th Dakar Rally, after the penultimate special stage between Tambacounda and Dakar on Saturday.
The French duo of Stéphane
Peterhansel and Jean-Paul Cottret began the last of the longer African special stages 11m 15s ahead of team mates Luc Alphand and Gilles Picard and maintained the overall lead, despite the fact that Alphand reduced their overall advantage to 7m 16s on the special.
Today's stage offered many potential last minute pitfalls as it wound its way through populated areas and over tricky parallel tracks where accurate navigation was of paramount importance and there were numerous speed checks. Only 136 bikes, 109 cars and 60 trucks survived to take the start of the special.
Neither of the overall leaders had any intention of pushing too hard and it was no surprise that a third successive stage win eventually fell to Spaniard Carlos Sainz. Alphand and Peterhansel eventually finished the stage in seventh and 11th positions, but head into Sunday's short competitive finale in a very strong position to extend Mitsubishi's six-year winning streak on the Dakar.
"I feel really happy to reach Dakar, but I was very nervous this morning," admitted Peterhansel. "Last year the navigation was not easy and we lost 20 minutes. It was not easy to find a good speed this morning. The track was not clear. It was possible to lose time so I started slowly. Marc Miller and Carlos Sousa passed me. On the second part of the stage we lost the track for a couple of minutes and I was very nervous. The speed restrictions helped us a lot. My eyes were always on the trip to check we were not going too fast."
"It's a little frustrating for me to be second into Dakar, but it has been like this for the last few days," said Alphand. "Nevertheless it has been a great all-round team performance. I am very happy to reach Dakar. It was quite a strange stage this morning. There were 17 speed restriction zones and that made the navigation easier, because we were driving slower and there was a waypoint every five or six kilometres. Tomorrow is the beach and, hopefully, we will have a party with our friends at the podium.
Hiroshi Masuoka and Pascal Maimon began the stage 15th on the road and were classified 10th at the PC checkpoint. They eventually reached the stage finish in 13th position. "No problems for me today," said Masuoka. "There were a lot of trees on the track and I just wanted to reach Dakar without problems and do my part for the team."
Spaniards Joan 'Nani' Roma and Lucas Cruz started eighth in the running order this morning, but lost 10 minutes before the passage control, slipped to 27th on the stage and eventually finished in 26th position. Roma maintains 13th overall. "We hit a low tree stump quite hard in a forest on my side of the car about 40km into the stage and it damaged the power steering," said Roma. "I also hurt my thumb in the steering wheel and it was very painful to finish the stage and drive the liaison."
"My feeling is that it is not yet over," said MMSP's Managing and Sporting Director Dominique Serieys. "We will see tomorrow around midday after the last stage. I am very proud of our entire team that we have reached Dakar. Team work has been superb again this year."