MARRAKECH (Morocco): Mitsubishi earned a podium place in the Orpi Rally of Morocco, when Japanese driver Hiroshi Masuoka finished second overall in the fourth round of the FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies, which finished in Marrakech on Sunday afternoon. Team mate Stephane Peterhansel finished 12th overall, but won four of the event's six special stages.
Masuoka, driving a Mitsubishi Shogun and returning to the team line-up for the first time since winning the 2002 Arras-Madrid-Dakar Rally in January, led the five-day event through the opening stage from Er Foud to Ouled Driss on Wednesday, but a series of punctures, and a freak accident involving his co-driver Andreas Schultz, meant that he eventually finished 34m 13s behind event winner and defending World Champion Jean-Louis Schlesser.
"I think we showed on this rally that the Mitsubishi is the major force in this form of world motorsport," said Masuoka. "Stephane and I had some small problems here, which cost us the win, but we are confident and looking forward to the future. It was good to be back behind the wheel."
Peterhansel has been the pace setter in the FIA World Cup this year, the highlight of the Mitsubishi newcomer's season being an outright victory in Tunisia back in April. Despite setting four fastest stage times in Morocco - including the quickest time in the final 69 kms Marrakech Grand Prix navigational stage - a six-hour delay on Friday with rear transmission problems cost Peterhansel and co-driver Jean-Paul Cottret a podium placing.
"It was a strange rally for me," admitted Peterhansel. "I set four fastest times from the six special stages. Had I not broken a rear driveshaft then we could have had a fantastic victory here."
"It was a good rally for Mitsubishi," insisted team manager Dominique Serieys. "Hiroshi was quickly back into a competitive pace after his six-month lay-off, but I think the rally was over before today. The final stage was fast and simple and there was no chance that he could pull back the time on Schlesser. The goal now for Mitsubishi is to test and develop a new car in time for the Desert Challenge in Dubai in November. This is ourbig priority now."
Mitsubishi dominated the top 10, with the Russian duo of Vladislav Rakityanskiv and Alexander Khrol taking third and fifth overall, separated only by the fourth-placed Spaniard Jose-Luis Monterde in another Shogun. Nicolas Misslin was eighth in another Shogun and French former world downhill skier Luc Alphand finished ninth overall in a 3.2-litre diesel-engined Shogun.
Frenchman Jean-Pierre Fontenay controlled proceedings in the T1 category from the outset. Classified 14th overall and first in T1 after the opening stage, Fontenay and co-driver Gilles Picard crushed the opposition in the class and finished 11th overall in their showroom-specification Shogun.
This year's Orpi Rallye Morocco offered a total of 1213 competitive kilometres in a route of 1732 kms. No less than 46 cars and 53 bikes started out of Er Foud on Wednesday morning, but a mere 26 cars and 38 bikes reached the finish in Marrakech.
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