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Dakar 2009: Mitsubishi┬┤s Roma maintains fourth overall.

Team Mitsubishi's Joan Nani Roma and Lucas Cruz Senra (both Spain) maintained their stranglehold on fourth overall in the 2009 Dakar Rally, after setting the seventh fastest time on the ninth special stage across the southern extremities of the Atacama desert in Chile on Monday.

Roma and Senra were the sixth quickest crew into the first PC at 131km, as the special stage from La Serena to Copiap wound its way north through the first competitive kilometers of the Atacama desert, the highest and driest region in the world, surrounded to the west by the Pacific Ocean and to the east by the Andes mountains.

They dropped 17 minutes to overall stage leader Mark Miller (USA) at PC1 after early navigation problems, but maintained a top pace through the second, third and fourth passage controls. The Spaniards eventually reached the finish in seventh position after clawing a little time back through the middle reaches of the special, only to lose it again with an overheating problem in the dunes.

Overall leader Carlos Sainz (Spain) ultimately set the fastest time, after Miller was forced to stop and change a tire before the fifth passage control, and extended his lead in the general classification to 19m 52s. Teams had left the bivouac in La Serena in cool, misty conditions - an effect caused by cold air from the ocean colliding with the warm air of the desert - and it caused some small logistical delays for the ASO.

The stage had been shortened by 19km in any case at the previous evening's drivers' briefing and the lost kilometers were added to the final liaison section to the bivouac, situated in a natural bowl in the Atacama desert, surrounded by sandy peaks and rolling dunes.

What they said?

Dominique Serieys, team director: "Nani and Lucas lost some time at the beginning and the end of the stage. They had a navigation problem near the start and a little overheating scare after 200km. It was not easy to pass the dunes. We are learning all the time. Let's see what happens over the next two or three days to see if we are still in the fight and what happens."

Joan Nani Roma: "It was not such a good day for us. At the beginning of the stage we made a navigation mistake. We were behind (Giniel) de Villiers in one wadi in the dust and we did not see a junction and went the wrong way. Then, at km 200, the engine temperature began to climb and we stopped too many times to try and make sure we reached the finish. Everybody will try and find the problem now. Tomorrow is another day and we will take each day as it comes."

Lucas Cruz Senra: "Giniel started very fast but, at km 45, we made a small error and missed one junction and took the wrong valley. We turned around and found our way again behind (Robbie) Gordon. He was doing 'the same job' and we stayed behind his dust trail."

2009/01/13 | 14:03 CET | Editor: MR/HS/MMSP

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