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Dakar 2009: Mitsubishi hold fourth, six and eight places.

Team Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart was unable to make in-roads into the overall leader's advantage after the fifth and most demanding special stage of the event so far between Neuqu?n and San Rafa?l in Argentina on Wednesday. The three turbo-diesel 'Racing Lancers arrived at the bivouac within the confines of the race circuit at San Rafa?l, having set the fifth, seventh and eighth fastest times on the stage. The result meant that the three Mitsubishi crews held fourth, sixth and eighth in the overall classification, but there was a late scare for defending champion, St?phane Peterhansel (France).

He and co-driver Jean-Paul Cottret (France) had moved into contention for a stage win in the early part of the special and were the virtual leaders at the 102km point, despite starting from eighth position on the road. They maintained their pace through the 230km point and had opened up a 1m 42s lead heading into the second section of the special, although Dieter Depping (Germany) pipped them to the fastest time at the 230km.

Peterhansel was a mere 10 seconds behind heading into a sea of sand dunes at the end of the stage. Giniel de Villiers (South Africa) eventually set the fastest time and Peterhansel crossed the finish line in fourth position, but drama had unfolded 15km before the end of the stage for the defending champion.

He descended a sand dune and was heading for the foot of a second dune, when the Mitsubishi hit a patch of camel grass and flipped over. The impact damaged the car's bodywork and radiator.

Luc Alphand and Gilles Picard (both France) started the stage in third position behind the two overall leaders, Carlos Sainz (Spain) and Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (Qatar) and were running in seventh position through the opening passage control at 230km. Alphand slipped to 10th through PC2 and finished the stage in seventh, a puncture not helping his cause.

Crews covered a technical and twisty opening section of the stage, before beginning a climb into a range of small mountains to a height of 2,300 meters. This guided them into the first real complex of sand dunes for around 60km towards the end of the stage.

Joan 'Nani' Roma and Lucas Cruz Senra (both Spain) were fifth on the road this morning and were classified in ninth position through the opening two passage controls. They finished the grueling stage in eighth in their 'Racing Lancer', despite two slow punctures in the course of the stage.

Four hundred and twenty vehicles were classified at the end of the fourth leg, but an unofficial 23 cars, bikes and trucks failed to restart this morning, as the original entry of 530 vehicles was further reduced.

Tomorrow (Thursday) is the last of the special stages on the event's first of two visits to Argentina and consists of a 76km liaison into a 395km special stage to Argentina's fourth city, Mendoza, overlooked on the western horizon by the Andes mountains.

The city stands 824 metres above sea level in a region famous for its wine industry and is a popular stop-off for tourists interested in climbing, skiing, rafting and hiking pursuits. The stage heads through the northern Patagonian lakeland and turns north to a finish south of Pareditas. A 154km liaison then takes crews into the overnight halt in Mendoza, with the towering volcanic peak of Tupungatito rising to 6,550 metres in the distance.

Dominique Serieys, team director: "I thought that today would be the start of the real Dakar and I was right but, unfortunately, we did not have lady luck on our side this afternoon. St?phane had a roll in the camel grass between the dunes and damaged the car. We will work all the night if necessary to repair it so that he can start again tomorrow. Luc and 'Nani' had flat tires, but are still in good positions."

Luc Alphand: "Very, very difficult today. Many competitors will have big problems. It was so long. There was a lot of time off piste in wadis and river beds. To the first PC was okay, but the way back was a nightmare. We nearly got stuck. It is grass in between sand, quite different and very difficult. The bottom of the dunes are very square, so you need a good technique to drive them."

St├ęphane Peterhansel: "We descended a sand dune and were heading for the foot of a second dune, when the Mitsubishi hit a patch of camel grass and flipped over. The impact damaged the bodywork and the radiator and this affected the temperature of the engine, causing it to rise. Now I hope that the mechanics can repair the car here at the service park."

Joan 'Nani' Roma: "It was not easy. At the end it was difficult. The main thing is that we are here and still okay."

2009/01/08 | 12:24 CET | Editor: MR/HS/RG

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