TICHIT, Mauritania - The Mitsubishi Motors Repsol ATS Studios Team held first and second positions in the overall standings, after the 660 kms special stage from Zouerat to Tichit in Mauritania today 6th January (Thursday).
Peterhansel and Jean-Paul Cottret had climbed nine places on the run into Zouerat and set their second consecutive fastest time on the punishing Marathon stage into Tichit, where winds and shifting sands had made the conditions difficult. Their performance in the adverse weather conditions lifted the defending champions into the outright lead of the rally for the first time in their Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero Evolution.
"I feel much happier than I did a couple of days ago," said Peterhansel, who was still taking aspirin and vitamin C tablets to combat the effects of influenza this morning in the windswept bivouac in Zouerat. "But I still feel that I can drive much quicker and find a better rhythm.
"The first part of the stage today was very fast, but not too difficult. After the third passage control the average speed was not more than 40 km/h, because of the camel grass and the undulating terrain. I had no flat tyres today, we have all four wheels for tomorrow’s stage and the car is in good shape. We passed around 150 bikes, but I am lucky I can start first tomorrow."
Frenchman Luc Alphand and co-driver Gilles Picard began the stage a mere 39 seconds behind the overnight leader Bruno Saby in second position. He finished the stage in fourth position to hold second, ahead of Germany’s Jutta Kleinschmidt and Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah in the overall standings.
Japan’s Hiroshi Masuoka and German co-driver Andreas Schulz were running at the front of the field once again after delays into Smara, but they were forced to stop in the stage today with damage to the front of the car. They were the fifth cars to finish the stage.
"At the beginning of the dunes we lost our way," said Masuoka. "We thought we had a puncture and changed a tyre, but it was just low pressure and we were able to have four tyres for tomorrow. The last 50 kms we nearly ran out of fuel and the engine was misfiring. We were lucky to arrive at the bivouac."
Germany’s Andrea Mayer and French co-driver Jean-Michel Polato began the day’s stage in 17th position in the Mitsubishi L200 Pick-Up. "I took a wrong route into Zouerat yesterday and we lost some time," said Mayer, who held 36th position through the second passage control in today’s stage.
Spaniard Joan Roma and co-driver Henri Magne were enjoying their first Dakar Rally together in a Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero Evolution MPR10.
MMSP’s Team Director Dominique Serieys was in happier mood. "It was a much better day for us today. We are back into the leaderboard but the Dakar is not finished yet.” admitted Serieys. "The plan this morning was for Hiroshi to drive as a rapid assistance for Stéphane and Luc. There are no mechanics in the bivouac tonight and the cars will go into a parc ferme area. Both Nani Roma and Hiroshi took several extra spare parts with them for these two marathon stages, in case we needed to work on Stéphane and Luc’s cars."
Tomorrow (Friday) the Mitsubishi Motors Repsol ATS Studios Team heads in a southerly and then westerly direction to the remote airstrip at Tidjikja, a regular stopover on the Dakar Rally. The 520 kms stage features a run through the notorious Nega Pass and a mixture of camel grass, fast rocky terrain and twisty tracks, but ASO officials decided to shorten the stage to 130 kms due to the difficulty of today’s special into Tichit and the late arrival of many competitors.
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