TIDJIKJA, Mauritania - The Mitsubishi Motors Repsol ATS Studios Team held first a and second positions in the overall standings on the road liaison run into Tidfjikja today (Friday), after the event organizers decided to cancel the day’s competitive action on safety grounds.
At 08.00 hrs on Friday morning, a mere 53 cars had arrived at the windswept bivouac in Tichit. The remainder were stranded in sand dunes and remote desert terrain, where they had spent the night under the stars. Many, including Mitsubishi’s Andrea Mayer, had run out of fuel near the finish and been forced to wait for assistance.
Frenchman Stéphane Peterhansel and Jean-Paul Cottret led the Dakar Rally outright, after setting the fastest time on the punishing special stage into Tichit, but Stéphane agreed wit the decision to cancel the day’s stage.
"For us the position will still be the same, so it is not a major problem," said Peterhansel. "But there are many teams still stuck in the dunes and in the sand with fuel problems. Co–Driver Jean-Paul Cottret said: “I knew we could have a potential fuel problem, so we reduced the pressure in the tyres and I eased off the accelerator pedal to make sure we made it. Some parts of the stage were very slow and cars used more fuel."
Frenchman Luc Alphand and co-driver Gilles Picard hold second position in the rally and were also in agreement with the decision. "It is a decision which has been forced on the organizers and we must go along with that," said Alphand.
Japan’s Hiroshi Masuoka and German co-driver Andreas Schulz were disappointed with the decision, after setting the fifth fastest time into Tichit on their climb back up the leaderboard.
"It would have been a great chance for us to make up even more time and move up the leaderboard," said Masuoka. "The stage would have suited the Mitsubishi. Now we must wait until the stage into Atar to get back on track. A podium finish is still possible."
Germany’s Andrea Mayer and French co-driver Jean-Michel Polato arrived at the Tichit bivouac at 01.00 hrs, after running out of fuel six kilometers from the stage finish.
"There was nothing we could do," said Mayer. "We just had to wait for a truck to arrive. But there were no trucks and we had to sit there as long as we did until someone came passed and gave us fuel."
In the first part of the stage yesterday, Mayer stuck into the sand. To dig out the car more than once was difficult, so the fuel consumption was higher than expected.
Spaniard Joan Roma and co-driver Henri Magne leapt to sixth place in the overall standings after the stage into Tichit.
"I was pleased to make it into Tichit as one of the leading cars," said Roma. "The road book was very hard to follow. I felt sure that it had been written from satellite photographs and not from a car, because the stage was so difficult. It would have been difficult on a bike."
Tomorrow (Satuday) the route heads west towards the half-point at Atar, the largest town in the Chinguetti tribal region of Mauritania, which has been a regular rest day venue for the Dakar Rally in recent seasons. After a three-kilometer liaison, teams tackle a 361 kms special stage, before a short liaison brings them to the rest halt in Atar. The tiny air strip and surrounding area will play host to the traditional rally rest day, where several hundred media and VIPs will attend from Europe.Published 8 January 2005