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Dakar 2007: Mitsubishi takes leadership in the Dakar Rally.

After a dramatic series of events, which saw overall rally leader Giniel de Villiers badly delayed with engine-related problems and arch rival Carlos Sainz stopped with electrical woes, the Mitsubishi crews of Stéphane Peterhansel/Jean-Paul Cottret and Luc Alphand/Gilles Picard arrived in Néma in first and second positions in the overall classification. They set the third and second fastest times on the tricky 494km special stage, which was won by Frenchman Jean-Louis Schlesser.

Peterhansel and Cottret headed into this morning’s stage behind overall leader de Villiers, but they were forced to stop and change the clutch. A late puncture failed to halt their progress and the winners of the Dakar in 2004 and 2005 arrived at the stage finish in third place to take the overall lead.

"When I saw Giniel De Villiers had stopped and there was the start of a fire on his car, it was unbelievable," said Peterhansel. "He had driven a great race so far. After that Jean-Paul and I knew we were in a good position, but we had our own problems with the clutch and spent 15 minutes changing it. Carlos, Mark Miller and Schlesser passed us and I really tried to catch them all. Then I saw Carlos stopped after a big jump and began to follow Luc. But we had a puncture near the end and I had to stop and change the wheel."

Alphand and Picard began the stage in third position and were classified sixth at the first passage control. Problems for their rivals pushed the defending champions into overall contention and Alphand recorded the second fastest time to move up to second overall, 7m 50s behind his team mate.

"It was an amazing day," said Alphand. "We saw De Villiers stopped and thought it was good for us. But I knew that Stéphane was pushing. Then we saw that he had stopped as well and I knew that we would have to lift off, because my turn for some bad luck may have been just around the corner. Then Sainz, Miller and Stéphane caught me. My pace was not so fast. They passed me and then Carlos stopped again with Miller alongside. Then I saw Stéphane and we finished the stage! Amazing1"

Hiroshi Masuoka and Pascal Maimon were classified fifth through the first passage control and fourth at PC2. They eventually finished the stage in fourth place, despite changing two flat tires and stopping a third time to check for a potential slow puncture.

"I had a good stage position today," said Masuoka. "But I think I could have won the special. I had two flat tires and stopped again once to check that the tires were okay. That was, perhaps, the difference between winning the stage and finishing fourth."

Joan ‘Nani’ Roma and Lucas Cruz were able to cure the minor electrical problem, which had dogged their progress into Tichit, and restarted in 18th place overall. They were seventh quickest through PC1, after making rapid progress over the opening kilometres. They were up to fifth at PC2 and maintained that position to the finish. The Spaniards now lie just outside the top 10 in the overall standings.

"The engine and the car are working very well now," said Roma. "I did not want to push too hard, because I am working to help the rest of the team. I have a good starting position for the next stage, so I will do my best to support the other three cars."

"I said to many people in Atar that the differences between the drivers at the rest day were very small," said MMSP’s Managing and Sporting Director Dominique Serieys. "Anything and everything can happen in Mauritania. After one very hard week in Morocco there is always a strain on the cars. The rally will be very difficult until Tambacounda, and maybe even Dakar. Now we are leading, we are not under pressure. But we have to manage our new strategy in a very intelligent way."

"It was a very positive day, but we have to take great care now for the final days," said MMSP’s President Isao Torii. "We will do our best. I feel very sorry for Volkswagen, but that is the nature of this rally. It is so unpredictable."

2007/01/15 | 14:18 CET | Pictures: Press, Teams, Aifa, Adsport etc

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