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PAX Rally: Double-Lead for Alphand and Carlos Sainz

The inaugural PAX Rally, the second fixture of the newly-created Dakar Series, is turning out to be one of the closest events ever seen in cross-country rallying. After 422km of against-the-clock action (more than half the week's total competitive distance), the top five drivers are covered by just over half-a-minute, while joint-leaders Luc Alphand and Carlos Sainz share exactly the same total time!

An assertive run from Stéphane Peterhansel/Jean-Paul Cottret (France) saw the Team Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart crew claim the second day's 199km test. The performance has wiped out their first day deficit to take them from overnight sixth and on to this evening's podium alongside team-mates Luc Alphand/Gilles Picard (France) and Sainz.

Joan 'Nani' Roma/Lucas Cruz (Spain) posted today's second fastest time to make it a Mitsubishi one-two over near-identical terrain and weather conditions to those encountered yesterday. Although they remain in fifth position, the Spanish pair has considerably narrowed the gap with the front-runners since they have closed to within 41 seconds of the charging trio in front.

"To be equal on top with Carlos Sainz after almost six-and-a-half hours of stages is absolutely incredible," enthused Luc Alphand at Thursday afternoon's service halt in Benavente, some 50km northeast of Lisbon. "That said, the fact that we were the overnight leaders meant that we were first on the road today and it wasn't easy. We spent much of the stage sweeping aside a clear line through the top-coating of loose dust and gravel for those running further down the order, so the other drivers benefited from better grip. The going was definitely more slippery for us than yesterday and we had to be especially careful under braking. On top of that we dropped a handful of seconds when we had to manoeuvre on a few occasions through certain hairpins and after slightly overshooting in a couple of places, but I'm pleased to say that our car ran like a dream."

Running sixth on the road, Stéphane Peterhansel was one of those drivers who was able to profit from a clearer line and the Frenchman pushed that advantage home to secure the best time of the day, completed the distance almost two minutes clear of team-mate Roma who was second. "Today's stage went much better for us," confirmed Peterhansel. "We didn't have any problems, the road was much cleaner and I managed to keep up a good, quick, consistent pace from start to finish. After the first two stages through the mountains southwest of Castelo Branco, tomorrow will start to see a change in the terrain and a shift towards sandier surfaces. I'm not sure how that will affect our times, but we will certainly keep fighting"

Nani Roma admitted to taking a little time to find the ideal rhythm first thing this morning since he wanted to spare his tyres for the long, hot day ahead of him. He soon got up to full speed, however, and could well have ended the leg at the sharp end of the leaderboard alongside team-mates Alphand and Peterhansel had he not picked up a front-right puncture towards the end of the test: "I was certainly much quicker towards the end, although we punctured about three kilometres from the finish. We didn't stop to change wheels, but we still must have dropped perhaps 30 or 40 seconds by my estimation," he reported. "This is turning into a thrilling event, but there's still a long way to go and the terrain promises to be sandier from tomorrow."

Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart Team Director Dominique Serieys was understandably delighted with the performance of his three crews today. "They've done a fantastic job and shown yet again that they're up there with the very best. This is the final competitive outing for the Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero Evolution, but it has shown here that it still has plenty of punch, thanks to a large extent of course to the commitment of Luc, Nani and Stéphane. We'll see tomorrow whether the change of terrain has an influence on their times as we start to head south towards the Algarve, but I have every reason to be satisfied so far."

2008/09/11 | 22:12 CET | Editor: MR/HS/MMSP

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