Leg 1 - 10th September
A STRONG START ON THE PAX RALLY (PORTUGAL) FOR REPSOL MITSUBISHI RALLIART TEAM
Determined runs on the opening day of the 2008 PAX Rally from all three Team Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart crews have seen Luc Alphand/Gilles Picard (France) emerge as the early leaders. Team-mates Joan 'Nani' Roma/Lucas Cruz (Spain) and Stéphane Peterhansel/Jean-Paul Cottret (France) follow in fifth and sixth places.
Before the start, Alphand warned that he intended to hit the ground running and, despite suffering from dehydration over the latter part of today's 223km stage, he respected that promise to the letter. A final burst of speed over the closing kilometres enabled him to beat former WRC champ Carlos Sainz to first place by a margin of just two seconds after almost three-and-a-half hours of flat-out competition, in temperatures well into the mid-30s (°C)!
The week's first taste of competitive action took crews northeast from the Portuguese capital, Lisbon, to Castelo Branco over similar terrain to that encountered on May's Rali Transiberico. The winner of that event was Luc Alphand, and he was in electrifying form again today to give the petrol-powered MPR13 an early advantage.
"It was very hot, and the pace was incredibly fast," explained the Frenchman. "I wasn't perfectly happy with my driving to begin with, but we soon picked up speed and I am particularly pleased with my performance over the final part of the stage. The terrain was very similar to what we saw on the Rali Transiberico. Today's stage was technically very challenging, especially towards the end. I ran out of drinking water, so I wasn't in fantastic form at the finish control, but I feel fine now."
Nani Roma also started the morning strongly, spending much of the day running inside the top-three before an electrical problem saw him lose almost three minutes with one-third of the stage still to cover. "It took me a little time to settle in, but I soon found a good rhythm which enabled me to push hard," relates the Spaniard. "In the second half of the stage I started to have trouble with my alternator and I stalled in a village. It took me some time to fire the engine up again and we lost valuable minutes before we were back on the move. It's obviously a big shame because we were going so well, but this event has only just started. Tomorrow's stage is another long one, and so much can still happen"
The light breeze and the fact that the leading crews started the stage every three minutes meant that hanging dust was less of a problem than initially feared. However, Stéphane Peterhansel did lose a small amount of time early on because of dust thrown up by some of the backmarker bikers. "It was a rear-left puncture about 50km from the end of the stage which lost me the most ground, though," reported the French driver. "The stage was very narrow and we had to drive for some time on a flat tyre before we finally finding a safe place to park up and put on the spare."
"I am proud of the speed our three drivers showed today. They are up against the likes of Carlos Sainz who's got years of WRC experience behind him, and many of the favourites here are competing with more sophisticated machinery," pointed out Team Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart Director Dominique Serieys. "None of the Mitsubishi drivers had a perfectly trouble-free run, but they were all extremely competitive and I'm delighted to see Luc in front. We were all hoping this would be an exciting rally and it's got off to a flying start. Let's hope it stays that way"
The five-day event continues tomorrow (Thursday) with the second leg from Castelo Branco to an overnight halt in Benavente, 50km northeast of Lisbon. The programme features another long stage (199km) which will run practically parallel to today's test. The event finishes on Sunday afternoon in Portimao on the Algarve coast after a total distance of 1,583km, including 829km divided into six stages (one per day, plus two on Friday).
Positions after SS1 (17.00 CET):1. Luc Alphand/Gilles Picard - Mitsubishi- 3h 22m 47s2. Carlos Sainz/Michel Perin - Volkswagen- 3h 22m 49s3. Giniel de Villiers/Dirk von Zitzewitz - Volkswagen- 3h 23m 40s4. Dieter Depping/Timo Gottschalk- Volkswagen- 3h 25m 13s5. Joan Roma/Lucas Cruz - Mitsubishi - 3h 25m 46s 6. Stéphane Peterhansel/Jean-Paul Cottret - Mitsubishi- 3h 27m 01s7. Filipe Campos/Jaime Baptista - BMW- 3h 28m 50s8. Nasser Al-Attiyah/Tina Thorner - BMW- 3h 29m 47s9. Pedro Grancha/Paulo Primaz - Nissan- 3h 33m 24s10. Leonid Novitskiy/Oleg Tyupenkin - BMW- 3h 38m 22s