"It is not very easy to understand why these things happen and why I lost the race," said Peterhansel. "It is only a sport. There are many things more important, but I will come back with complete motivation. Maybe there is a logic in what happened. Because it happened to Hiroshi as well two years ago. Maybe it will be my turn next year."
Portugal's Carlos Sousa and French co-driver Henri Magne finished the rally in fourth position and successfully fended off a late challenge from the South African Giniel de Villiers.
"I'm pleased with fourth because I was fifth twice before," said Sousa. "My car is much more competitive over the technical stages, like the one we had on Saturday. I was one of the fastest drivers over the rocky sections. I don't have the top speed and the gearing of the cars in front and therefore I have no chance of beating them unless they have problems."
Miki Biasion and co-driver Tiziano Siviero looked set for a top three position after winning the last of the longer stages from Abu Rish on Saturday. But the Italians suffered the agony of a jammed gearbox on the podium in Sharm El Sheikh and a 10-hour time penalty was imposed by the panel of Stewards, as a result of the Italians making emergency repairs in a control zone. This dropped the twice former FIA World Rally Champion to 15th overall in the final classification.
"I didn't really sleep last night thinking about the time penalty," said Biasion. "But it is better to forget the past and look ahead to the future. I felt that I did a good job for the team and enjoyed working with such a friendly group of people. The Dakar was harder than I thought it would be. But I am here at the finish, made no mistakes and had no accidents. This is the most important. Stephane won six Dakars and has lost his first one in a car. I also feel that I have lost a top three place, but I have plenty of time in the future."
There was further success for Mitsubishi down the leaderboard. Spanish off-road champion Jose-Luis Monterde and co-driver Rafael Tornabell clinched 10th place and were classified as the top privateers in their Ralliart Pajero. They also finished second behind Frenchman Luc Alphand in the Super Production diesel category.
Brazilians Klever Kolberg and Roldan Lourival were 13th and won the Total Trophy for Amateur drivers. "This year I think the Dakar was quite easy," said Kolberg. "It was a fast Dakar. We had no problems any day. We just had to service the car to avoid potential problems. Even the navigation was not too difficult. I prefer the rally when we have more corners and more work for the drivers, like the last big stage in Egypt."
Germany's Andrea Mayer made a successful transition from a bike to a car and was classified 21st in her Mitsubishi Ralliart Pajero on her first Dakar on four wheels.
"We had a few problems along the way, but I am so happy to reach the end," said Mayer. "I have learned many things about driving a car on these events, how to prevent problems and how to drive at a sensible pace. My best times have been in the dunes where my experience with the bike has helped me to follow the best tracks."
Portugal's Carlos Oliveira and co-driver Pedro Jordao finished 25th.
Positions after final leg (Top 10 only): 1. Hiroshi Masuoka (J)/Andreas Schulz (D) Mitsubishi Pajero* Evolution 49h 08m 52s
2. Jean-Pierre Fontenay (F)/Gilles Picard (F) Mitsubishi Pajero* 51h 01m 04s
3. Stephane Peterhansel (F)/Jean-Paul Cottret (F) Mitsubishi Pajero* Evolution 51h 25m 20s
4. Carlos Sousa (P)/Henri Magne (F) Mitsubishi L200 Strakar 51h 36m 39s
5. Giniel de Villiers (ZA)/Pascal Maimon (F) Nissan Pick-Up 51h 54m 47s
6. Stephane Henrard (B)/Bobby Willis (GB) Volkswagen Tarek 52h 51m 07s
7. Ari Vatanen (SF)/Tina Thorner (S) Nissan Pick-Up 53h 34m 51s
8. Jutta Kleinschmidt (D)/Fabrizia Pons (I) Volkswagen Tarek 57h 25m 48s
9. Luc Alphand (F)/Matthew Stevenson (GB) BMW X5 Rally-Raid 58h 04m 58s
10. Jose-Luis Monterde (E)/Rafael Tornabell (E) Mitsubishi Pajero* 58h 17m 11sPositions on Sharm El Sheikh - Sharm El Sheikh stage (top 6 only):
1. Ari Vatanen (SF)/Tina Thorner (S) Nissan Pick-Up 16m 32s
2. Luc Alphand (F)/Matthew Stevenson (GB) BMW X5 Rally-Raid 17m 48s
3. Jutta Kleinschmidt (D)/Fabrizia Pons (I) Volkswagen Tarek 17m 51s
4. Miki Biasion (I)/Tiziano Siviero (I) Mitsubishi Pajero* 17m 56s) Volkswagen Tarek 18m 20s
5. Stephane Henrard (B)/Bobby Willis (GB)
6. Thierry de Lavergne (F)/Jacky Dubois (F) Nissan Pick-Up 18m 46sPublished 20 January 2003