Central Europe Rally - Leg 7 (Saturday April 26, 2008), Veszprem (Hungary) - Balatonfüred (Hungary):SS7: 155 kmRoad section: 10.7 kmOfficial finish
TEAM REPSOL MITSUBISHI RALLIART'S PETERHANSEL FINISHES 2ND WITH PAJERO/MONTERO EVOLUTION IN HUNGARY; TEAM-MATE LUC ALPHAND (4TH) MISSES OUT ON A PODIUM PLACE
The inaugural Central Europe Rally, the first fixture of the newly-created Dakar Series, saw Mitsubishi's Stéphane Peterhansel/Jean-Paul Cotteret (France) narrowly fail to reap the benefits of an excellent week's work which saw them top the leaderboard for the majority of the event.
The French pair emerged in front after the second leg of the seven-day event but were passed by World Rally Champion Carlos Sainz on the penultimate day and were unsuccessful in their bid to bridge the gap on the final day. The two drivers were separated by just 2 minutes 01 second after more than 1,000km of competitive action through Hungary and Romania.
Fellow Pajero/Montero Evolution MPR13 crew Luc Alphand/Gilles Picard (France) did everything they could to join their team-mates on the podium but failed to make up the seven-second deficit that separated them from Germany's Dieter Depping on the thrilling last morning.
"Although they didn't win, I have to congratulate Stéphane and Jean-Paul for the fantastic job they did this week," underlined Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart Team Director Dominique Serieys (France). "This event has shown that our discipline has nothing to envy other forms of rallying in terms of intense, exciting competition, with some pretty outstanding drivers and some genuinely sophisticated machinery. The Pajero/Montero Evolution was very reliable from start to finish and I am proud of everyone's performance on this brand new event."
Peterhansel was on the pace from last Sunday's start in the Hungarian capital Budapest and eased in front over the first of the two punishing legs through the rain and fog of the mountains near Baia Mare in Romania. He then set out to defend his lead as the route headed back into Hungary where the faster terrain and drier conditions tended to favour the more powerful, latest-generation prototypes of his rivals.
"The pace was extremely fast from the start," said Peterhansel. "I have very rarely driven so quickly in a cross-country rally before. The competition reached its peak on Friday afternoon when I took as many risks as I dared to get back in front of Sainz. I then tried very hard again this morning, but I dropped about 50 seconds when I went slightly off course and that sort of gap just wasn't possible to make up without running the risk of throwing everything away. It was far better to settle for second place."
Luc Alphand started the final day on the heels of Dieter Depping and intent on passing the German to finish on the podium. His efforts were to no avail, however, and the former World Champion skier finally finished fourth. "It's been a very fast rally and the pace has meant that we haven't been able to relax an instant since last Sunday's start," reported Alphand. "Our Pajero/Montero Evolution went perfectly, and the fact that we missed out on a podium finish by just 54 seconds after more than 1,000 km of stages shows just how close it has been all week. This rally was good experience for me and I am sure it has helped me progress. It was a big challenge, and quite hazardous in places but it was all very positive."
Mitsubishi came close to seeing a third Pajero/Montero Evolution finish in a strong position, since Nani Roma and Lucas Cruz (Spain) figured on the provisional podium on Friday morning, but their run was halted by a broken right steering tie-rod on Day 6.
A fourth Team Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart car, the new diesel-engined MPR14, which was making its debut on the Central Europe Rally in the hands of Hiroshi Masuoka/Pascal Maimon (Japan/France), was forced to withdraw prematurely following a freak incident on Tuesday: Maimon's foot was driven over by a rival car while he was helping Masuoka change a wheel after a puncture. The Frenchman was later taken to hospital for x-rays in nearby Baia Mare hospital where a fractured ankle bone was diagnosed, spelling the crew's immediate retirement.
"I would just like to say a big bravo to our team, and also to all our rivals for this exciting week," concluded Dominique Serieys. "It's been a great competition and we have learned a great deal, and that includes with the diesel-engined MPR14 despite Hiroshi Masuoka's early retirement. We will stay here in Hungary with his car to do a little more work on this new MPR14."
The next event on Team Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart's 2008 calendar is Portugal's Transiberico in May. The French-based squad will then continue its preparation for the 2009 Dakar in South America with July's Baja Espana.