ZOUERAT, Mauritania - The Mitsubishi Motors Repsol ATS Studios Team moved back into contention for victory in the 26th Dakar Rally by setting the first, second and fourth fastest times through the 492 kms special stage in the north-west of Mauritania today 5th January (Wednesday).
Frenchman Luc Alphand and co-driver Gilles Picard moved up to second place in the Dakar Rally, after setting the fourth fastest time today, behind Peterhansel and Frenchman Bruno Saby.
Frenchman Stéphane Peterhansel and co-driver Jean-Paul Cottret held third position through the second passage control into Zouerat after starting the day in 14th overall and set the overall fastest time to move back up to fifth overall.
The defending Dakar champion began today’s stage still suffering from the effects of influenza and was forced to borrow a wheel off team mate Joan Roma before the start of the special stage.
"This was one of the fastest stages ever on the Dakar," said Peterhansel. "I had one rear right flat tyre, but I feel much better now and am looking forward to the rest of the rally."
"I had three Volkswagens in front of me on the stage into Smara," said Alphand. "It is not worth the risk to overtake them on narrow tracks when there is such a long way to go. I saved my car through Morocco so we are in good shape for the next few days. I would have been happy with my current position if you had given me this in Spain, but I feel disappointed for Hiroshi. He has lost a lot of time and we must work as a team in the next days."
"We still have a lot of time to get back into contention for the victory. We will see on Saturday night what the situation is. For me the key will be Friday and Saturday. It is not a small gap to close, but it is possible. Now we will change the strategy for Hiroshi. He will become a really fast service car and provide good support for Luc and Stéphane, said MMSP Team Manager Dominique Seriyes.
Japanese team mate Hiroshi Masuoka put yesterday’s major set-back to the back of his mind by taking the second fastest time today. "It was our mistake yesterday," said Masuoka’s co-driver Andreas Schulz. "We were going quickly in the dust and there was a big hole in the road. The car crashed into the hole and we broke the wishbone
Andrea Mayer and Jean-Michel Polato now hold 17th in the overall standings. Team mates Joan Roma and Henri Magne finished the day’s stage in 16th position. They began the day in 17th and leapt to 14th overall.
Tomorrow (Thursday) is the most difficult stage of the event so far, a 660 kms Marathon section from Zouerat to the remote oasis at Tichit. The section passes through the El-Ghallaouiya Pass, crosses a complex of small dunes at El Mrayer and is followed by several hundred kilometers of camel grass and fast, rutted tracks.Published 6 January 2005