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Dakar 2007: Mitsubishi safely through stage into Kayes to maintain lead.

Team Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart drivers Stéphane Peterhansel and Luc Alphand stayed in firm control of the 29th Dakar Rally, after the 257km special stage between Ayoûn-el-Atroûs in Mauritania and Kayes in north-western Mali on Thursday. But Alphand and co-driver Gilles Picard managed to reduce Peterhansel’s and Jean-Paul Cottret’s overall lead to just 6m 29s.

Peterhansel and Cottret began the day in fourth position and were a cautious eighth through the first passage control. They finished the stage in sixth place and maintained a reduced lead in the overall standings. "The stage was very narrow in places between many small trees and we touched one tree on the right-hand side of the car," said Peterhansel. "But the car was perfect otherwise. The stage offered very tricky navigation. About 50km from the end we lost the track and a little time."

Alphand and Picard were sixth into the stage this morning and the fourth fastest crew through PC1. Despite taking no risks, the defending champions set the third fastest time and managed to reduce their team mates’ overall lead to 6m 29s with three stages remaining. "We started behind Carlos Sainz and he really pushed, so we had a clear track for much of the stage and were able to gain some time," said Alphand. "Now we have to be quiet and intelligent. We had a little navigation problem, about 600 metres the wrong way, but it was the same for several drivers."

Hiroshi Masuoka and Pascal Maimon followed Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah into this morning’s stage in second position and were under team orders to slow down and wait for team mate Peterhansel and shadow him to the stage finish. Masuoka was 19th at PC1 and reached the stage finish in 19th position, although he duly slipped behind the American Marc Miller into sixth overall. "I played the waiting game today to make sure that the other team drivers were okay," said Masuoka. "It was difficult to avoid the small trees. It will be very difficult for the trucks running behind us on the stage."

Joan ’Nani’ Roma and Lucas Cruz started eighth on the road into Kayes, but were six seconds faster than Carlos Sainz at the first PC and the virtual leaders on the stage. Roma eventually finished fifth on the special, which was won by Sainz from Portugal’s Carlos Sousa. "I was running very well to the first PC," said Roma. "But, after the water, I caught a Mitsubishi and thought it was Luc in the dust. I followed him, but it was Hiroshi. We both took the wrong route and both cars had to turn around. I lost a little time there, but more time following in Hiroshi’s dust. There are only about 500km of racing to go, but they will feel very long!"

"It was a good day for us," said MMSP’s Managing and Sporting Director Dominique Serieys. "We now have to be very careful over the next three days and keep our concentration. There is a great spirit within our team. I will have a chat tonight with Isao Torii and we will discuss a team strategy. Tomorrow’s stage through Black Africa is very narrow and technical and we don’t want a fight between our two drivers on the stages. They are professional and will fully understand the situation."

2007/01/19 | 14:22 CET | Editor: MR/MMSP/Neil Perkins

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