Pordenone (Italy): Mitsubishi Motors made a winning start to the 11th Baja Italy. Frenchman Stephane Peterhansel and Japan's Hiroshi Masuoka were first and second overall after the opening 393 kms competitive leg on Saturday.
Their two Mitsubishi Pajero* Evolutions tackled a tricky 130.9 kms selective stage across a dry and dusty river bed, near Vivaro in north-eastern Italy, on three occasions.
Peterhansel and co-driver Jean-Paul Cottret started the opening stage first on the road and set the fastest time to open up a three-minute lead over Volkswagen's Jutta Kleinschmidt. Team mates Masuoka and Gilles Picard chose the wrong track for two kilometres in the middle of the section and were forced to retrace their tyre tracks and dropped four minutes to the leading Mitsubishi.
Peterhansel extended his advantage on the second stage, as Masuoka and Portugal's Carlos Sousa climbed into second and third places overall, once Kleinschmidt was handed a 40-minute time penalty for missing a passage control. Sousa and co-driver Henri Magne, at the wheel of a Mitsubishi
L:200 Strakar, were fourth and fifth through the opening two stages and finished the day in third place.
Mitsubishi's overnight advantage was secured after the third loop when Peterhansel and Masuoka set the top two times. Stephane was quicker than his team mate by 20 seconds to extend his lead to 4m 37s.
"The stage was very nice," said Peterhansel. "There were several sections where it was difficult and you needed be careful not to take the wrong track. In one place I landed heavily on the river bed and damaged the front panel and then I hit a small tree on the second stage, but nothing too serious. I had no problems with dust on the final stage, but the tracks are quite worn after being used three times and I needed to be careful."
"I took the wrong track in the middle of the first stage," said Masuoka. "I drove for two kilometres before we realised we had made a mistake. I lost four minutes. We learned from that mistake and pushed hard."
"I am quite happy with third position," said Sousa. "The car ran perfectly today and we set a good time on the last stage. Now I must keep my concentration on Sunday and conserve third place."
Mitsubishi Ralliart customers Lukasz Komornicki and Jose-Luis Monterde were classified eighth and 10th in their Mitsubishi Pajeros*. Germany's Andrea Mayer retired with a damaged front differential mounting after the second stage. She had been lying ninth overall.
"I had a good start, but I lost some time following in the dust," admitted Mayer. "But we damaged the front differential mounting this afternoon and there was not enough time to repair it at service."
Sunday's timetable offers a pair of 105 kms selectives, again centred at the Observatory Ariete near Vivaro. A final road section takes the surviving teams on to the coastal town of Trieste and the official podium.
Positions on SS1 (top 3 only):
1. Stephane Peterhansel (F)/Jean-Paul Cottret (F) Mitsubishi Pajero* Evolution 1h 24m 35s
2. Hiroshi Masuoka (J)/Gilles Picard (F) Mitsubishi Pajero* Evolution 1h 28m 35s
3. Carlos Sousa (P)/Henri Magne (F) Mitsuhishi L200 Strakar 1h 28m 40s
Positions on SS2 (top 3 only):
1. Stephane Peterhansel (F)/Jean-Paul Cottret (F) Mitsubishi Pajero* Evolution 1h 24m 26s
2. Hiroshi Masuoka (J)/Gilles Picard (F) Mitsubishi Pajero* Evolution 1h 24m 43s
3. Luc Alphand (F)/Matthew Stevenson (GB) BMW X5 1h 29m 12s
Positions on SS3 (top 3 only):
1. Stephane Peterhansel (F)/Jean-Paul Cottret (F) Mitsubishi Pajero* Evolution 1h 22m 38s
2. Hiroshi Masuoka (J)/Gilles Picard (F) Mitsubishi Pajero* Evolution 1h 22m 58s
3. Carlos Sousa (P)/Henri Magne (F) Mitsubishi L200 Strakar 1h 26m 50s
Overall classification after Leg 1 - SS3 (top 10 unofficial):
1. Stephane Peterhansel (F)/Jean-Paul Cottret (F) Mitsubishi Pajero* Evolution 4h 11m 39s
2. Hiroshi Masuoka (J)/Gilles Picard (F) Mitsubishi Pajero* Evolution 4h 16m 16s
3. Carlos Sousa (P)/Henri Magne (F) Mitsubishi L200 Strakar 4h 25m 13s
4. Thierry Magnaldi (F)/Francois Borsotto (F) Honda HRU 4h 50m 43s
5. Stephane Henrard (B)/Alain Low (B) Volkswagen Tarek 4h 55m 00s
6. Edi Orioli (I)/Graziano Pelanconi (I) Nissan Patrol GR 4h 57m 36s
7. Filipe Campos (P)/Angelo Cesar (P) Toyota Landcruiser 4h 59m 34s
8. Lukasz Komornicki (PL)/Rafal Morton (PL) Mitsubishi Pajero* 4h 59m 58s
9. Helder Oliviero (P)/Jose Ribiero (P) Nissan Patrol GR 5h 00m 56s
10. Jose-Luis Monterde (E)/Rafael Tornabell (E) Mitsubishi Pajero* 5h 01m 58s
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