Pordenone (Italy): Japan's Hiroshi Masuoka gave the Mitsubishi Motors team a winning start to its 2003 FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies programme, when he and co-driver Gilles Picard won the 11th Baja Italy in dramatic circumstances, today (Sunday).
Masuoka, driving the Mitsubishi Pajero* Evolution in which he won the Dakar Rally in January, trailed team mate Stephane Peterhansel for four of the event's five selectives. He hit the front near the end of the last stage when the Frenchman suffered the ignominy of a broken steering bracket a mere eight kms from the finish.
"I cannot believe it," said Masuoka. "This happened on the Dakar Rally two months ago and it has happened again. I was not pushing. I was being patient. It is unbelievable for Stephane to have problems again. He was the fastest driver this weekend. It is a big surprise for me."
A devastated Peterhansel had the scant consolation of second place with Jean-Paul Cottret in his Mitsubishi Pajero* Evolution. "I drove the first stage today at normal speed," said Peterhansel. "It is easier to make a mistake if you are consciously trying to drive more slowly. I had a good lead at the end of the first leg and the priority was to conserve this. Then, near the end of the stage the steering felt strange. We had broken the steering and I had to limp to the finish. I cannot believe I could have problems again so near the end."
Masuoka had lost four minutes in the first section on Saturday after a navigational problem on the dried river bed, near Vivaro, where all the competitive action was centred. The Japanese moved his way into second overall on the second selective and set the fastest time on both today's 105.6 kms stages.
Portugal's Carlos Sousa and co-driver Henri Magne gave Mitsubishi Motors a 1-2-3 by claiming the final podium place in their L200 Strakar.
"I am pleased to finish third," said Sousa. "This was a good result. We had a small scare on Saturday morning when Henri thought that he could smell smoke inside the car, but there was no problem."
Mitsubishi Ralliart customers Jose-Luis Monterde and Lukasz Komornicki reached the finish in fifth and sixth places overall in their Mitsubishi Pajeros*.
Germany's Andrea Mayer had been lying inside the top 10 in a third car before hitting problems after the second selective on Saturday, when a broken front differential mounting was discovered. A new gearbox was fitted and Mayer continued with three hours of time penalties at the back of the field for testing purposes.
The actual competitive action was based around race control at the Observatory Ariete in Vivaro. Leg one offered three 130.9 kms sections on the dried river bed and the route was shortened for a pair of 105.6 kms selectives today.
Positions on SS4 (top 3 only):
1. Hiroshi Masuoka (J)/Gilles Picard (F) Mitsubishi Pajero* Evolution 1h 06m 56s
2. Stephane Peterhansel (F)/Jean-Paul Cottret (F) Mitsubishi Pajero* Evolution 1h 07m 01s
3. Carlos Sousa (P)/Henri Magne (F) Mitsubishi L200 Strakar 1h 12m 02s
Positions on SS5 (top 3 only):
1. Hiroshi Masuoka (J)/Gilles Picard (F) Mitsubishi Pajero* Evolution 1h 06m 34s
2. Carlos Sousa (P)/Henri Magne (F) Mitsubishi L200 Strakar 1h 10m 28s
3. Stephane Henrard (B)/Alain Low (B) Volkswagen Tarek 1h 12m 32s
Final overall classification after leg 2 (top 7 - unofficial):
1. Hiroshi Masuoka (J)/Gilles Picard (F) Mitsubishi Pajero* Evolution 6h 29m 46s
2. Stephane Peterhansel (F)/Jean-Paul Cottret (F) Mitsubishi Pajero* Evolution 6h 32m 38s
3. Carlos Sousa (P)/Henri Magne (F) Mitsubishi L200 Strakar 6h 47m 43s
4. Stephane Henrard (B)/Alain Low (B) Volkswagen Tarek 7h 19m 50s
5. Jose-Luis Monterde (E)/Rafael Tornabell (E) Mitsubishi Pajero* 7h 33m 44s
6. Lukasz Komornicki (PL)/Rafal Morton (PL) Mitsubishi Pajero* 7h 34m 49s
7. Jutta Kleinschmidt (D)/Fabrizia Pons (I) Volkswagen Tarek 7h 37m 28s
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