(January 3rd-January 18th, 2009)
News from scrutineering at La Rural, Buenos Aires Weather conditions: warm and sunny, 25 degrees C
REPSOL MITSUBISHI RALLIART TEAM ALL SET TO CHALLENGE FOR EIGHTH SUCCESSIVE DAKAR RALLY VICTORY
· Four new 'Racing Lancers' set for Dakar Rally debut· Drivers carry out final shakedown in Buenos Aires
BUENOS AIRES (Argentina): Meticulous pre-event planning ensured that the Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart Team sailed through scrutineering and documentation for the 31st Dakar Rally at La Rural Exhibition Center in the picturesque suburbs of Buenos Aires on New Year's Day (Thursday).
The experienced crews of Mitsubishi's four new turbo-diesel 'Racing Lancers' can now concentrate on their personal preparations for the start of the opening special stage between Buenos Aires and Santa Rosa de la Pampa on Saturday, January 3rd.
All four 'Racing Lancers' were given a brief shakedown in Buenos Aires on New Year's Eve by team drivers Luc Alphand, Hiroshi Masuoka, Stéphane Peterhansel amd Joan 'Nani' Roma to ensure that there were no last minute problems following the cars' arrival by 'plane from Europe.
The entire Mitsubishi team, consisting of the four drivers and four co-drivers Gilles Picard, Pascal Maimon, Jean-Paul Cottret and Lucas Cruz Senra, team management, mechanics, engineers and support staff were also able to enjoy a New Year's Eve dinner together in the Argentine capital and toast the start of a New Year where the Japanese manufacturer hopes to clinch an eighth successive victory in the Dakar Rally.
The Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart team has been set up by the Mitsubishi Motors Corporation in association with partners Repsol, Valeo and BF Goodrich.
Tomorrow (Friday) representatives from the team will attend the ASO's official pre-event press conference at La Rural Exhibition Center in Buenos Aires before Mitsubishi's four 'Racing Lancers' crews and race support truck teams attend the official ceremonial start on Friday evening, close to the famous Obelisk on the Avenue of the 9th July in downtown Buenos Aires.
Competitive action gets underway from the Argentine capital on Saturday (January 3rd) with a short liaison into a 371km 'pampas'-style special stage in the direction of Santa Rosa de la Pampa.
The stage will start close to the town of San Saladillo and finish at Trenque Lauquen, although there will be three passage controls en route to the capital of the La Pampa province.
What they said?
Osamu Nakayama, MMSP SAS President"This is a new Dakar and a new course and it will be very interesting for everybody. On top of that we have a new engine and a new vehicle. We have done everything we can to prepare for this race and have carried out around 17,000km of testing at various altitudes and also in intense heat.
"I hope we can win for the eighth time in a row. We can do it and have very experienced drivers. Dakar is always very difficult. Logistics are always very important and I have been very impressed with all our member and their work on this Dakar.
"We can never predict what will happen on the Dakar this year, but we will do everything we can to take the victory."
Dominique Serieys, team director"I think, like always, if you want to lead this race for the first few days it is more spectacular for marketing and advertising. You have much more to lose by leading too early. I think the first big step will be the first stage. We need to be on a good pace and then we will see where we will be on the fourth or the fifth stages.
"It is a long race and we need to forgot the last five or six years. In 2008, we were fighting for seconds with our rivals like on a World Championship rally, but we have to be on the pace here.
"Experience is crucial. Some teams have two or three years' experience and are still not winning. The strategy itself will be important. We have new technology coming through, like we see in the Le Mans 24 Hour race, and we need to start with a new car and continue to learn. We won seven times consecutively. Now we have to move on with the new 'Racing Lancer' on a new Dakar, so let's see.
"It could be a small advantage that some of our drivers have driven similar stages before. I would not like to say it is a big advantage, because day after day the ground is moving. We might cross the same area, but not necessarily the same tracks."
Thierry Viardot, technical director:"Maybe we are a little bit young with our new car and the diesel technology, but we know that Dakar is always long and difficult. I would say that we have the capacity to win the race, but we do not have the experience with this new package.
"The altitude we will face is the same for everybody, but this is not the key point. Once again, the key points will be the reliability and the experience of the team. We certainly have the experience, but we will not know how we will fare until we have completed one Dakar."
Luc Alphand"It's going to be tough for the next three weeks. It's going to be a big race. It is hot here in the summer and we have many kilometers to go. I am happy to start and ready to go. But I do have some worries how I will physically manage this race. But we have been here for a while and I am in good shape.
"The fact that we are in South America for the first time has made this a more open playing field for everyone, except for four or five of the stages are known to drivers who have taken part in the Por las Pampas Rally and we know some of the tracks. We have a new race format, a new car, a new engine and a new name. So, we are really turning the corner into a new era at the same time as the Dakar has moved to South America.
"I am expecting a huge fight over the first two days. I am not sure that we are super fast in top speed, that is why people like (Robbie) Gordon and (Nasser) Al-Attiyah and a couple of the Volkswagens will want to start fast. But there is so much to go afterwards, I will not be worried if I am sixth or eighth after two days. I just want to be close to the pack and stay on the road. We had no race since September. We have all trained well, but it will take one or two days to get back into the pace of the race."
Hiroshi Masuoka"All our preparations have been very good for this race. We have the new car and now we must wait and see. We tested three times in Africa and everything was fine. Now I must concentrate 100% to make sure that I reach the finish in Buenos Aires.
"This is my first time in Argentina and it is a nice city. Everybody is very friendly, but it is different to competing in Africa. It will also be my first time racing in the Andes mountains. But I have prepared well and the team did some useful training in the French Alps."
Stéphane Peterhansel"It is not easy to say that we can win the rally first time with the new car. We had a long test and the feeling is that the car is fast and gives good performance. The feeling for me is that we have a good level, but we need to have confirmation of this during the race. With the old atmospheric engine we had a big problem racing at altitude and lost a lot of power. we have also worked very hard with the chassis of the car, the suspension and shock absorbers. We must remember that inside the car it is not just about the engine.
"We will have a good level, but everyone will start fast and maybe after two days (Robbie) Gordon will lead the race and it will not be easy for Mitsubishi to be inside the top five in the early stages."
Joan 'Nani' Roma"For me and Lucas (Senra) it is different to come to South America for the Dakar. It was a 12-hour flight and then we land and it feels like Spain. The race is not going to be easy at all. People say that the race in South America is easier than before, but I don't agree. When we used to arrive in Mauritania, the maximum length of the stages used to be around 350km. Here, we have stages 600, 500 and 400km in length. It will be long and hard.
"I made the Por las Pampas Rally on two occasions and for people like me, Stéphane and Luc, when we arrive in places like Nuequén, San Rafaël and Mendoza, we may have seen the stages before. I passed these places twice. Maybe it's not the same track, but I know the area a little.
"In the last few years the level of speed from the start has been high. I am sure that on the first two days everyone will start flat. But it is easy to lose the race in these two stages. It is difficult if you finish the first stage and you have lost 10 minutes. It is important for me to start at a pace with which I feel comfortable. I want to drive fast but not at the maximum."