PUNISHING CONDITIONS BEATEN AS REPSOL MITSUBISHI RALLIART TEAM EXTEND LEAD IN CENTRAL EUROPE RALLY
Dakar Series - Central Europe Rally (April 19-26) Tuesday, April 22, 2008 Peterhansel pulls further clear at the top of the leaderboard Alphand and Roma follow in 3rd and 4th places Masuoka forced to retire as co-driver is hit by competitor’s car
Stéphane Peterhansel and his co-driver Jean-Paul Cottret (France) came through the punishing conditions of the Central Europe Rally's third day to strengthen their lead at the top of the provisional standings with their Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero Evolution MPR13. The French pair is joined on the provisional podium by team-mates Luc Alphand and Gilles Picard (France) in third place, while Nani Roma and Lucas Cruz (Spain) are fourth.
Team Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart's day was marred, however, by a freak accident which led to the early retirement of Hiroshi Masuoka/Pascal Maimon (Japan/France). While the crew was changing a tyre on the morning's stage, a rival competitor ran over the French co-driver's left foot. X-rays later revealed a fractured ankle bone and he was forced to withdraw.
After Monday's difficult competitive loop through mountains near the Romanian city of Baia Mare, survivors today tackled exactly the same roads, but this time in the opposite direction. Worsening weather and the fact that the tracks had been cut up badly by the previous day's visit meant that crews faced an even tougher test. But that didn't stop Mitsubishi's Stéphane Peterhansel putting in another surefooted performance to pull further clear at the top of the leaderboard before competitors head back east into Hungary this evening.
Peterhansel posted the second fastest time over this morning's 76km loop, and his drive on the shortened, repeat run (36km) this afternoon gave him the second best aggregate time for the day. "It's been another very positive day for us, despite the conditions which were far worse than those we encountered yesterday," he reported. "The stage was badly cut up, and the rain meant there was running water and mud everywhere; there was even fog to make things even more complex this morning! Jean-Paul and I have a cushion of more than two minutes this evening, and that's obviously nice. However, we now leave Romania for more unknown territory in Hungary and there's no way we can afford to relax just yet!"
For the second day running, fellow Team Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart drivers Luc Alphand and Nani Roma profited from the appalling conditions to move up the order and they are split by exactly half a minute in third and fourth places this evening. "It's been another very challenging day," said Alphand after this afternoon's test. "The conditions were much worse than yesterday, and we weren't helped when our power-steering drive-belt started to slip because of all the water during the second half of this morning's stage. The steeringwheel was more difficult to turn as a result and I lost a little ground. We went well overall, though, and the three Mitsubishi MPR13s all covered this afternoon's test within ten seconds of each other. Stéphane is still leading, we're up to third now and Nani is fourth. It's just a shame that Hiroshi and Pascal have had to pull out"
Team-mate Nani Roma echoed Alphand's sentiments at the afternoon's service halt: "It wasn't an easy day, by any means, but I am feeling more and more comfortable," smiled the Spaniard. "I found a good pace, despite having to cover all but 10 kilometres of this morning's stage without an intercom! I couldn't hear a thing Lucas was saying. We are in a strong position for the team tonight, and we will try to carry on doing the same sort of job tomorrow when the event returns to Hungary."
While their team-mates were busy fighting their way up the leaderboard, Hiroshi Masuoka and Pascal Maimon suffered a misadventure this morning which ultimately led to their retirement. The Franco-Japanese had pulled onto another track with their diesel-powered Pajero/Montero Evolution MPR14 near the first stage's passage control in order to change a wheel which had picked up a slow puncture. While they were doing this, Carlos Sainz, who had been lost, arrived by this track and his car unfortunately ran over Pascal Maimon's left foot.
Pascal Maimon initially paid little attention to the injury and the crew continued to the end of the stage. But when an osteopath examined his ankle, he immediately dispatched Maimon to the hospital in nearby Baia Mare where x-rays revealed a fractured medial malleolus. This necessitated a plaster-cast and made it impossible for him to continue the event. He is due to travel back home to France on Wednesday.
"Pascal's injury is a big blow," confirmed Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart Team Director Dominique Serieys (France), "but I suppose it's just one of those unfortunate things that can happen. We are just thankful it wasn't worse. Hiroshi was going very well and we were pleased to see him mixing it this early in the MPR14's development with other top cars and drivers. That has given us a good benchmark. The stages he and Pascal contested have already provided us with some valuable information, though, and I would like to thank MMC for giving us this chance to put the new diesel engine through its paces for the first time on an event, because nothing can replace actual competition.
"But while we are naturally disappointed for Hiroshi and Pascal, we mustn't lose sight of the fact that the other three Mitsubishi crews are going exceptionally well, despite the extremely selective conditions which have already caught out several experienced crews."
After this afternoon's stage, competitors faced a 227km road section back into Hungary for an overnight halt in the country's second-biggest city, Debrecen. Wednesday's programme features another long run-out (213km) to the day's first stage (62km), near Dabas, and a second test (110km) close to Veszprem, near the northern tip of Lake Balaton.