ATAR, Mauritania - The Mitsubishi Motors Repsol ATS Studios Team enjoyed a successful ninth stage of the Dakar Rally between Tidjikja and Atar in Mauritania on Saturday.
Team drivers Luc Alphand, Stéphane Peterhansel and Hiroshi Masuoka completed the 361 kms special in first, second and fifth positions, with Peterhansel and Alphand consolidating their first and second places in the overall standings.
Alphand and co-driver Gilles Picard took their first fastest time of the race and their first as a partnership in the Mitsubishi Motors team. The former World Downhill skiing champion beat his team mate by 1m 31s.
"We tried to maintain a reasonable pace and had a flat tyre," said Alphand. "Then we stopped to deflate the tyres for the dunes and had a second puncture. Maybe the tyre pressure was too low. But I am delighted to take my first stage win with the Mitsubishi and it leaves me in a good position for the final week of the race.
"I don’t feel any pressure at the moment. Stéphane is very strong and is driving well. Everyone wants to win this race, but we have overcome some problems this week and will restart on Monday in a very strong position."
Peterhansel and co-driver Jean-Paul Cottret took the second fastest time in their Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero Evolution. The defending champion will take a 20-minute outright lead into Monday’s tricky Atar loop stage.
"I feel much better than I did a couple of days ago," said Peterhansel. "The stage was not easy today. There were some large dune fields and the navigation was difficult."
Japan’s Masuoka and German co-driver Andreas Schulz arrived at the stage finish, near Atar, with the fifth fastest time. "We had two flat tyres today and were forced to change the left rear twice," said Masuoka, who held ninth overall at the start of the day in the third Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero Evolution and moved up to sixth overall.
Germany’s Andrea Mayer and French co-driver Jean-Michel Polato set the tenth fastest time into the Atar bivouac and moved up to 12th overall in their Mitsubishi L200 Pick-Up.
"One hundred kilometers in front of PC1, I saw Nani stuck in the wall of a sand dune and we towed him out and got stuck ourselves for a short time," said Mayer. "After that we saw that he put air in his tyres and he overtook us and moved ahead. In the next dune field we thought he had already arrived, but he hadn’t and then we got lost ourselves for around 10 minutes."
Spaniard Joan Roma and co-driver Henri Magne began the stage in sixth position in the overall standings, but were forced to wait for the assistance truck after getting stuck on the run into Atar.
Tomorrow 9th January (Sunday) is the traditional rest day on this year’s Dakar Rally, where teams are able to give a thorough overhaul to all the surviving cars in the race. A large number of VIPs, guests and media arrived this afternoon from Europe to give the depleted bivouac a chaotic feel to it.Published 9 January 2005