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Transiberico: Mitsubishi hold first and third places after leg 2.

Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart Team drivers Joan ‘Nani’ Roma and Luc Alphand held first and third positions after a thrilling second leg of the Vodafone Transiberico Rally, round three of the 2006 FIA Cross-Country Rally World Cup, today (Saturday).

Spaniard Joan ‘Nani’ Roma and Andorra-based co-driver Henri Magne began the day with a 4.5 second lead and arrived in Evora with an advantage of a mere nine seconds in the overall standings, after setting the fastest time on the second stage of the day to compensate for losing time behind three quad bikes on the opening special.

"I was running so well on the first stage and then we caught three quads and it was impossible to overtake," said Roma. "The Portuguese Federation said that it was unnecessary for them to have a Sentinel system, so I just couldn’t get passed. I was on full attack for many kilometres and then I lost all the time behind the quads. It was so frustrating. The stage was difficult, but I cannot understand why they did not put a Sentinel system on the quads."

French team mates Luc Alphand and Gilles Picard began the day in fourth place and tackled the first stage behind Volkswagen’s Giniel de Villiers. They moved into a tie for second overall after setting the second fastest time in SS2 and finished the day in third overall, courtesy of the third quickest time on the second run.

"I started cautiously this morning," said Alphand. "I was still a little nervous after the accident in Tunisia. To balance the car we adjusted the brake bias to the front, but I was maybe a little too careful this morning early in the stage. When I realised that I was around a minute behind I decided to push harder. I enjoyed this special. I remembered it well from three years ago when I was here with BMW. It was exactly the same stage - narrow between the trees.

"The key is to be smooth, control the car carefully and maintain your concentration. We had no dust, just lost a little time behind a couple of bikes. There are still two more days, so I did not intend to push this afternoon. It was all about avoiding punctures and getting the confidence back."

Today’s competitive action was centred around remote terrain to the north-east of Lisbon in the area between Montemor-o-Novo, Santarem and Ponte de Sor. A varied 258.82 km stage was run in a clockwise direction, starting and finishing in a scenic parkland service park, north of the village of Mora. The special featured several potentially tricky river crossings and numerous narrow tree-lined tracks in rural farmland in the Alentejo region.

Local national champion Armindo Araújo and French co-driver Pascal Maimon began the day in second overall in a Mitsubishi L200 Strakar, prepared by Mitsubishi Motors Portugal, and were running ahead of Roma and leading the rally outright when the gearbox failed suddenly around 60 km into the stage.

Following the Portuguese driver‘s demise, Roma and De Villiers became locked in a frantic tussle for the fastest time in SS2, with Alphand 26s adrift in third overall after 115 km. Roma gradually pulled a handful of seconds clear of De Villiers, but the South African fought back and was three seconds ahead after 153 km, 23s in front at 168 km and 49s up at 225 km. He eventually finished the stage 41s ahead of Roma and 27s in front of a resurgent Alphand, who set the second fastest time after a late flurry.

The stage was repeated at 14.00 hrs on Saturday afternoon and De Villiers took an overall 32s lead over a tying Roma and Alphand into the special. Benefiting from a clearer track, Roma led his team mate by 24s and De Villiers by 43s at PC1 after 63 km and extended his advantage over De Villiers to 1m 11s and Alphand to 55s at the PC2 point after 143.78 km.

The Spaniard was 53s ahead of De Villiers at the 195.21 km point (PC3) and reached the finish of the stage 45s ahead, to enter the overnight halt with a slender nine-second advantage in the overall classification.

‘This was a short stage on a sprint-type event," said MMSP’s Team Director Dominique Serieys. "This is not the type of race where you can expect to gain 15 minutes in one stage. I suppose it is a blend of a WRC event and a Cross-Country Rally. Luc took it easy on the first lap, just to find his confidence, but I am quite happy after the first long day with our position."

On Sunday the Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart Team will tackle two timed runs through a 155.74 km special stage across the border in Spain. A 152.16 km liaison will take crews from the overnight halt in Evora to the Spanish town of Alburquerque, which will also be the location of the service park. After the two timed specials, a 74.66 km liaison will guide teams into the overnight halt at Cåceres.

Positions on SS2 (258.82 km):

01 I De Villiers (ZA)/Von Zitzewitz (D) I VW Race Touareg I 03:07:55
02 I Alphand (F)/Picard (F) I Mitsubishi Pajero Evo I 03:08:22
03 I Roma (E)/Magne (AND) I Mitsubishi Pajero Evo I 03:08:36
04 I Blasquez (E)/Cruz (E) I Nissan Pick-Up I 03:11:28
05 I Kahle (D)/Schulz (D) I VW Race Touareg I 03:16:30
06 I Grancha (P)/Tavares (P) I Mitsubishi Pajero I 03:18:08

Positions on SS3 (258.82 km):

01 I Roma (E)/Magne (AND) I Mitsubishi Pajero Evo I 03:03:35
02 I De Villiers (ZA)/Von Zitzewitz (D) I VW Race Touareg I 03:04:16
03 I Alphand (F)/Picard (F) I Mitsubishi Pajero Evo I 03:04:32
04 I Kahle (D)/Schulz (D) I VW Race Touareg I 03:06:15

Positions at end of leg 2 (unofficial):

01 I Roma (E)/Magne (AND) I Mitsubishi Pajero Evo I 06:18:53
02 I De Villiers (ZA)/Von Zitzewitz (D) I VW Race Touareg I 06:19:02
03 I Alphand (F)/Picard (F) I Mitsubishi Pajero Evo I 06:19:50
04 I Kahle (D)/Schulz (D) I VW Race Touareg I 06:29:43

2006/05/14 I 23:30 CET I Editor:

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