Roma in Dakar podium contention

31st  DAKAR RALLY (January 3rd-January 18th, 2009)

Leg 8: Valparaiso - La SerenaLiaison, 245 km; special, 294 km; liaison, 113 km; total, 652 km.

Weather conditions: cool, cloudy and misty, 10 degrees Centigrade, rising to 26 degrees Centigrade.

MITSUBISHI'S ROMA MAINTAINS FOURTH PLACE WITH MARKED IMPROVEMENT INTO LA SERENA

· Nail in tire costs Roma potential third place on stage

LA SERENA (Chile): Team Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart maintained its chances of clinching a podium finish in the 2009 Dakar Rally, when Joan 'Nani' Roma and Lucas Cruz Senra (both Spain) set the fourth fastest time on the 294km special stage between Valparaiso and La Serena in Chile on Sunday.

Roma and Senra had the additional responsibility of carrying the full weight of the team's effort into the second week of the Dakar, but the pair were unfazed by the added pressure of needing to set competitive times, but also make sure they made no mistakes.

Roma was classified as the third fastest driver through the opening passage control at the 180km point of the 294km special stage. He trailed Dieter Depping (Germany) by a mere three seconds and was running 33 seconds quicker than Mark Miller (USA), although Carlos Sainz (Spain) maintained a healthy stage lead.

Sainz maintained his pace to extend his overall lead to 10m 57s, but Roma slipped three seconds behind Miller over the closing kilometres when a nail punctured a rear right tire. He eventually set the fourth fastest time, although a second slow puncture failed to prevent him from maintaining fourth overall.

Of the original 530 entrants in the 2009 Dakar Rally, 337 teams restarted out of Valparaiso on Sunday morning, with numerous back-markers benefiting from the ASO's decision to permit any non-seeded vehicle that did not complete legs five and six to restart with 200 hours' of penalties. Therefore, 156 bikes and quads, 116 cars and 65 trucks set out into the stage to La Serena.

Tomorrow (Monday) the route continues its move north along the length of the longest country in the world to reach Copiapó in the Atacama desert, the highest and driest area of its kind in the world and one of the most important mining regions of recent years.

Teams will need to pass more sand dunes towards the end of the 449km stage, which starts 88km from La Serena at Trés Cruces, and finishes at the Copiapó bivouac after five passage controls, including three near Vallenar, Algarrobal and Punta de Diaz.

At 390 metres above sea level, Copiapó is the capital of the Atacama region and of the province of the same name and lies on the Copiapó River. It lies in an area rich in silver and copper deposits and has become a major mining centre in recent years following a boom in demand for commodities.

What they said?

Dominique Serieys, team director"It was a good result for 'Nani' today, particularly after the rest day. He was fast and he lost some time with a puncture. He was unlucky with a nail in the tire. Nothing special really, 'Nani' is happy and we will hope for the same tomorrow."

Joan 'Nani' Roma"It was a nice stage. Some corners are tight and it is certainly interesting with a big car. I was lucky in some parts, but the nail in the tire was really bad luck. Anyway, the stage was okay for us. Everyone in our team is really motivated to catch the Volkswagens. For me, I always drive for everyone in the team and I want to keep pushing at the same speed for everyone. There is still a long way to Buenos Aires and anything is possible."

Lucas Cruz Senra"We had two punctures today. One was a slow one and one was a nail through the side of the tire about 100km from the end of the stage and it cost us third place. It was similar to a WRC stage today, but maybe a few more stones than a world rally. Giniel (De Villiers) lost 10 minutes today, so anything can happen. It is important that we keep our position for now."

SS8 CLASSIFICATION1. Carlos SAINZ (VOLKSWAGEN RACE TOUAREG - T1.2)- 3:47:19 (**:**)2. Dieter DEPPING (VOLKSWAGEN RACE TOUAREG - T1.2)- 3:51:21 (+4:02)3. Mark MILLER (VOLKSWAGEN RACE TOUAREG - T1.2)- 3:51:31 (+4:12)4. Joan ROMA (MITSUBISHI RACING LANCER - T1.2)- 3:51:34 (+4:15)5. Giniel DE VILLIERS (VOLKSWAGEN RACE TOUAREG - T1.2)- 3:58:07 (+10:48)6. Guerlain CHICHERIT (BMW X3 CC - T1.2)- 3:58:51 (+11:32)7. Krzysztof HOLOWCZYC (NISSAN NAVARA - T1.1)- 4:04:52 (+17:33)8. Robby GORDON (HUMMER H3 - OP1)- 4:10:59 (+23:40)9. Ivar Erik TOLLEFSEN (NISSAN NAVARA - T1.1)- 4:13:30 (+26:11)10. Tonnie VAN DEIJNE (MITSUBISHI L200 - T1.1)- 4:14:50 (+27:31)

OVERALL CLASSIFICATION AFTER LEG 81. Carlos SAINZ (VOLKSWAGEN RACE TOUAREG - T1.2)- 27:29:59 (**:**)2. Giniel DE VILLIERS (VOLKSWAGEN RACE TOUAREG - T1.2)- 27:40:56 (+10:57)3. Mark MILLER (VOLKSWAGEN RACE TOUAREG - T1.2)- 27:48:04 (+18:05)4. Joan ROMA (MITSUBISHI RACING LANCER - T1.2)- 28:03:30 (+33:31)5. Robby GORDON (HUMMER H3 - OP1)- 29:02:00 (+1:32:01)6. Krzysztof HOLOWCZYC (NISSAN NAVARA - T1.1)- 30:27:04 (+2:57:05)7. Ivar Erik TOLLEFSEN (NISSAN NAVARA - T1.1)- 30:59:31 (+3:29:32)8. Dieter DEPPING (VOLKSWAGEN RACE TOUAREG - T1.2)- 32:21:44 (+4:51:45)9. Rene KUIPERS (BMW X3 CC - T1.2)- 33:03:42 (+5:33:43)10. Tonnie VAN DEIJNE (MITSUBISHI L200 - T1.1)- 33:27:48 (+5:57:49)