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Dakar 2007: Peterhansel still the leader in the overall ranking.

The Team Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart crew of Stéphane Peterhansel and Jean-Paul Cottret began the 13th special stage of the 2007 Dakar Rally between Kayes in Mali and Tambacounda in Sénégal, 6m 29s ahead of team mates Luc Alphand and Gilles Picard, on Friday. But the twice former winners of the event extended their overall lead to 11m 15s after setting the second fastest time, behind stage winner Carlos Sainz, on the twisty and narrow special through eastern Sénégal. The two crews are now under instruction from team management to bring the two Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero Evolutions to Dakar without any undue risks over the final two special stages at the weekend.

The organisers had warned that navigation would be tricky on the day’s stage and there would be several carefully monitored speed restriction zones through villages and heavily populated areas. The fact that bike race leader Marc Coma got lost and then crashed was a case in point. It was not a stage to be taken lightly.

"There was some very difficult navigation in the early part of the stage and then a wide track," said Peterhansel. "The end of the stage was very fast. It is much easier to race at higher speeds in the car. Jean-Paul did a great job on the navigation and that was so important. We beat the bikes by around 30 minutes today. This race is never finished until you see the podium. The leader of the motorbikes today was a harsh example of that. It was good to finish the stage. "Tomorrow is not too long, but I remember the stage was difficult last year and several crews lost a lot of time. We have a good position behind Carlos Sainz on the road. He is fast so we should be okay."

Luc Alphand and Gilles Picard began the special stage in third position and set the sixth fastest time to conserve second place. "It is always quite an easy stage when you have the right track," said Alphand. "It was easier for the cars with a co-driver than it was for the bikes. We decided this morning to stay behind Carlos Sainz and Carlos Sousa and behave. Both mirrors and both wings are intact on our car, so that proves we drove very sensibly."

Joan ‘Nani’ Roma and Lucas Cruz were fifth into the stage in the third Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero Evolution and eventually set the eighth fastest time to retain 13th overall. "Near the end of the stage I hit a small tree, under braking, and we damaged the front right wing of the car, but it was just panel damage," said Roma. "After that I had one right-hand puncture and that’s where we lost the time. Today was a case of being careful."

Hiroshi Masuoka and Pascal Maimon were forced to start the stage in 19th place this morning and lost several minutes trailing in Stéphane Henrard’s dust. They set the 15th fastest time. "For 150km we followed in the dust of the Buggy," said Masuoka. "We tried to get passed but it was not possible. The stage was very difficult. It was narrow and twisty. We passed a Nissan, which had crashed, and we were careful to the finish."

"It was a great shame for Marc Coma in the bike category, but this proves that this race is never finished until you reach the final stage in Dakar," said MMSP’s Managing and Sporting Director Dominique Serieys. "We will stay quiet and very humble. All our drivers are safely through the stage. Our drivers are professional and know that in the interest of Mitsubishi Motors we should try all we can to reach Dakar in the same positions as we are in now."

The last of the traditional African special stages - a 225km section between Tambacounda and Dakar in Sénégal - takes place tomorrow (Saturday). The route consists of a wide range of twisty and fast roads through villages and populated areas and starts 124km to the west of Tambacounda at the town of Koumpentoum. The route heads north towards Velingara and turns west to a finish near Mbake. A 227km liaison steers teams into Dakar.

2007/01/19 | 16:45 CET | Editor: MR/EP/ASO

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