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Por las Pampas: Double-Win for Mitsubishi Teams in South America.

Frenchman Luc Alphand and co-driver Gilles Picard clinched outright victory for the Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart Team in the Patagonia-Atacama Rally, the opening round of the FIA Cross-Country Rally World Cup, which finished in Iquique, northern Chile on Thursday afternoon. Spanish team mate Joan "Nani" Roma and Andorra-based co-driver Henri Magne led during the middle of the nine-day event, but clutch problems in Chile pushed them back down to second overall in their Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero Evolution.

"This was another superb victory for Mitsubishi and a great team effort on a very hard and long rally," said a delighted MMSP Team Director Dominique Serieys. "Our drivers, co-drivers and mechanics worked superbly as a team. It was valuable experience for the future on an event that I thought was harder than last year. Some of the terrain was spectacular and very difficult. The dunes were particularly tricky."

Alphand and Picard had moved into the outright lead on the second selective section between Neuquén and San Rafael in Argentina last Thursday, after Brazilian Mauricio Neves had taken a surprise lead on the opening section from San Martin de Los Andes. The Frenchman held a slender advantage over Roma until the event arrived in Chile. Roma won the final Argentine stage from Mendoza and was quickest on the Santiago super special stage, before moving into the outright lead on the short section between the Chilean capital and the coastal town of La Serena.

Over the final four stages on the run north through Chile, the Mitsubishi pair were in a class of their own. Roma sustained a rear flat tire on the tricky 379.90 km coastal stage between La Serena and Copiapo and was beaten by 2m 08s seconds by his stage-winning team mate. But the Spaniard maintained a slender three-second advantage over the Frenchman. Russia’s Sergey Shmakov was now 5h 29m 55s behind the leading Mitsubishi in his Buggy.

Alphand regained the overall lead on the 176.7 km Copiapo loop stage on Tuesday, when Roma was delayed for over an hour with clutch problems in sand dunes, near the first passage control. The Spaniard was forced to replace the clutch in the stage and slipped 1h 43m 24s behind his Dakar Rally-winning colleague after setting the fourth fastest time. Alphand remained over six hours ahead of third-placed Shmakov. "The stage was magnificent, but very tricky in places," said Alphand. "We deflated the tires and only took two spare wheels in the car. Some of the dune crossings were very difficult and we hit one clump of camel grass behind a sand dune, but nothing too serious."

The run north to the copper mining town of Antofagasta included an arduous 675.27 km eighth selective section, which ran through mountains and descended into a canyon alongside the Pacific Ocean. Despite a puncture, Roma was quicker than his team mate on the stage, but remained 1h 41m 32s behind Alphand prior to the start of the final stage into Iquique on Thursday.

As the event headed through the towering, desolate wastelands of the world’s highest and driest desert - the Atacama - Alphand and Roma consolidated their positions at the top of the leader board on the 200.60 km timed selective section. Alphand duly reached the finish of the event 1h 40m 52s ahead of team mate Roma, with Shmakov 6h 14m 06s in arrears in third place.

Positions after final stage - Antofagasta to Iquique:

01) Alphand/Picard | F/F | Mitsubishi Pajero | 34.45.41
02) Roma/Magne | E/AND | Mitsubishi Pajero | 36.26.33
03) Shmakov/Mishin | RU/RU | SMG Buggy | 42.40.39
04) Otano/Monti | RA/RA | Toyota Revolution | 54.35.11
05) Koerich/Koerich | BR/BR | Chevrolet S10 | 61.50.11
06) Tedesco/Almeida | BR/BR | Chevrolet S10 | 61.54.20
07) Briones/Cappilay | RCH/RCH | Toyota Hilux | 71.21.33
08) Hernandez/Figueroa | RCH/RCH | Toyota | 76.09.16
09) Sampieri/Espinoza | RA/RCH | Nissan Terrano | **.36.54
10) Fogliani/Piana | I/I | Mercedes Unimog | **.15.18
11) Carrasco/Vogel | RCH/BR | Kia Sorento | **.57.12

2006/03/21 I 16:49 CET I Editor:

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