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Transiberico: Nani Roma loses thrilling rally in final kilometers.

Spaniard Joan ’Nani’ Roma and Andorra-based co-driver Henri Magne were deprived of victory on the final kilometres of the final stage of a breathtaking 2nd Vodafone Transiberico Rally, when they lost crucial seconds and the win to arch South African rival Giniel de Villiers, today (Monday).

The Spaniard, who only switched from motorcycle enduro racing to join the Japanese manufacturer’s team at the end of the 2004 season, had increased his 25-second overnight lead to 36 seconds after the fourth leg’s first two stages and was cruising to an emphatic win until the last dramatic kilometers. Team mates Luc Alphand and Gilles Picard finished a solid and distant third overall in a second Mitsubishi Pajero Evo.

"I cannot believe it," said Roma. "I drove a good stage and could not believe that I had lost the race. I am so disappointed. I improved on each of the laps today and set a better time every lap. I was absolutely flat out this morning. I had no option. You know if you make a slight mistake, each second lost is going through your mind. I think this is the hardest I have ever pushed a car since I switched from bike racing.

"When we passed a section which I thought was flat out on the first lap, I told Henri and he made a mental note to modify our road book for the next lap. There were many places where I thought that we could be quicker on the repeat runs."

Alphand and Picard began the day in third place and the Frenchman accepted that it was unrealistic to think about catching his rivals. He slowed to a sensible pace to conserve the car and earned a second podium place for Mitsubishi, "Today was merely a case of making sure I finished third and not damaging the car, because it is needed for the next race in Morocco," admitted Alphand. "I knew that Nani and Giniel would be pushing hard and there was no way that I could make up eight minutes. The starter problem yesterday was so disappointing. A puncture can happen at any time, but to lose four minutes with that problem really cost us the race. One big positive though was to regain my confidence after the accident in Tunisia."

Today’s trio of 112.32 km special stages were located to the north of Portalegre in a rural region to the south and east of Castelo Branco. The special ran in an anti-clockwise direction, started to the west of the town and skirted Vila Velha de Bodao, before heading in a north-easterly direction to a finish near the town. Teams then embarked upon a 254.29 km liaison section across the breadth of Portugal to Estoril.

Roma and De Villiers were inseparable after 16 km of the opening stage, but Roma edged into a seven-second lead at the 49 km point, with Alphand and Kahle trailing well behind. Roma led by 10s after 65 km and nine seconds after 88 km, but De Villiers regained vital seconds over the faster closing kilometers, as Roma reached the finish a mere one second ahead of his rival to extend his lead to 26s. Alphand used the opportunity to try out suspension settings and set the third fastest time, the Frenchman finishing the stage 2m 20s behind Roma.

As the excitement and tension mounted, the leaders embarked upon the second lap. "I was feeling a lot happier before the second lap," admitted Roma. "It is much better when you have seen the stage and know what to expect, but I am sure it was the same for Giniel."

Roma and De Villiers were again closely matched, but Roma managed to edge a further 10 seconds ahead over the sixth stage and headed into the final 112.32 km section with a lead of 36s in the overall standings. Alphand was an untroubled third, 13m 32s adrift.

The drama continued with De Villiers edging seven seconds ahead of Roma at the 16 km point on the final stage. The difference remained the same after 32 km, but Roma had overturned the difference by PC1 and was eight seconds ahead of his rival and 44s to the good with less than half of the stage to complete.

The difference was up to 11s on the stage after 65 km, but De Villiers had overturned the momentum after 88 km and was running 16s in front of Roma. It set the scene for a thrilling showdown, with the Spaniard defending a 20s lead over the closing 24 km. But Roma was unable to hold De Villiers at bay over the final nail-biting kilometers and the South African took full advantage to take the outright lead and victory by the margin of just 24 seconds after nearly 15 hours of racing.

"It was a truly exciting race and one on which the whole team can be proud of their performances," said MMSP’s Team President Isao Torii. "I am obviously disappointed for Nani. He did not know where he had lost those seconds at the end of the last stage. He had beaten his first two lap times and is improving all the time as a driver. We must accept this defeat and use it to make ourselves stronger for the next race and for the Dakar Rally next year."

The 2nd Transiberico Rally ran over a total route of 2,075.85 km and 1,173.08 km were competitive, with teams tackling a total of seven timed special stages and a super special over four days. Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart Team driver Joan Roma won five specials, including the opening timed super special, while Volkswagen’s De Villiers clinched victories on the first, fourth and final stages.

Positions on SS6 (112.32 km):

01 I Roma (E)/Magne (AND) I Mitsubishi Pajero Evo I 01:33:12
02 I De Villiers (ZA)/Von Zitzewitz (D) I VW Race Touareg I 01:33:13
03 I Alphand (F)/Picard (F) I Mitsubishi Pajero Evo I 01:35:32
04 I Kahle (D)/Schulz (D) I VW Race Touareg I 01:35:40

Positions on SS7 (112.32 km):

01 I Roma (E)/Magne (AND) I Mitsubishi Pajero Evo I 01:31:43
02 I De Villiers (ZA)/Von Zitzewitz (D) I VW Race Touareg I 01:31:53
03 I Alphand (F)/Picard (F) I Mitsubishi Pajero Evo I 01:34:30
04 I Kahle (D)/Schulz (D) I VW Race Touareg I 01:34:34

Positions on SS8 (112.32 km):

01 I De Villiers (ZA)/Von Zitzewitz (D) I VW Race Touareg I 01:30:32
02 I Roma (E)/Magne (AND) I Mitsubishi Pajero Evo I 01:31:32
03 I Alphand (F)/Picard (F) I Mitsubishi Pajero Evo I 01:32:50
04 I Kahle (D)/Schulz (D) I VW Race Touareg I 01:33:36

Provisional final positions at end of leg 4:

01 I De Villiers (ZA)/Von Zitzewitz (D) I VW Race Touareg I 14:51:41
02 I Roma (E)/Magne (AND) I Mitsubishi Pajero Evo I 14:52:05
03 I Alphand (F)/Picard (F) I Mitsubishi Pajero Evo I 15:06:55
04 I Kahle (D)/Schulz (D) I VW Race Touareg I 15:39:14
05 I Grancha (P)/Tavares (P) I Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero I 16:13:49
06 I Campos (P)/Baptista (P) I Renault Mégane I 16:27:37

2006/05/15 I 20:20 CET I Editor:

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