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Transiberico Rally: Luc Alphand and Gilles Picard clinched victory.

Team Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart's Luc Alphand and Gilles Picard (France) clinched victory with their Pajero/Montero Evolution MPR13 on the 2008 Rali Transiberico at this afternoon's finish in Estoril, near Lisbon.

With the exception of the opening day's short prologue test, Mitsubishi drivers topped the leaderboard for the entire event, with St├ęphane Peterhansel/Jean-Paul Cottret (France) emerging in front with their similar car after Thursday's first true stage. The afternoon saw the French pair lose a little ground, but the provisional lead was immediately snapped up by team-mates Juan 'Nani' Roma/Lucas Cruz (Spain) who profited from the delicate conditions to give the diesel-engined Pajero/Montero Evolution MPR14 the first stage win of its career.

The Spaniards finally took their score to three fastest times after dominating the timesheets on Sunday's two stages, too. Unfortunately, they had already lost any chance they may have had to give the new car its first win - barely a month after its debut on April's Central Europe Rally - when mechanical trouble delayed them on Saturday afternoon.

The five-day event, which counted towards the 2008 FIA Cross-Country Rally World Cup (round 2), featured a wide variety of terrains, from the mountains of the border between Portugal and Spain to lower-lying land closer to Lisbon. Frequent heavy rain made the conditions extremely difficult, with mud and standing water adding to the inherent challenge of the narrow, twisty tracks. The organisers were even forced to shorten both visits to Friday's stage, a decision which reduced the event's total competitive distance from 1442.48 to 1307.82km.

Team Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart arrived in Portugal with two objectives: to fight for victory and to continue the development of the new diesel-powered Pajero/Montero Evolution MPR14 which was entrusted to Nani Roma, after making its debut in the hands of Hiroshi Masuoka (Japan) in Hungary. Not surprisingly, Team Director Dominique Serieys (France) was delighted with the team's first victory of the year, but he was equally happy with the lessons learnt with the new V6 diesel: "I would like to congratulate Luc and Gilles for their excellent performance," he said. "The conditions were treacherous from start to finish but they didn't put a foot wrong. They were never far off the lead and their consistency was rewarded in the best way possible. Nani came close to giving the new car its first win, but we mustn't lose sight of the fact that our priority here with the MPR14 was to continue the development of the new engine. We go back to France with lots of valuable information and Nani's score of three fastest times suggests that the new powerplant has real potential. At the same time, St?phane was running a new BFGoodrich tyre this week and the lessons learnt on that front, too, promise to be very useful for the future."

After the finish ceremony, Luc Alphand hailed the quality of the Rali Transiberico's stages and organisation. He was also swift to praise the team's efficient groundwork which gave him a car that ran practically like clockwork throughout the five-day event. "As usual, the terrain here was extremely varied but our Pajero/Montero Evolution MPR13 took it all in its stride," reported the Frenchman who was tackling this rally for the third time. "And it wasn't a case of just sitting back and waiting for the others to hit trouble, either: we were only 25 seconds behind Nani before our only problem - with the wiper motor - on Saturday morning. A big thank you to everyone at Mitsubishi for such a polished job, and also to Gilles [Picard] who didn't make a single mistake despite the unrelenting pace."

Indeed, the experienced French co-driver, 53, couldn't have wished for a better result to celebrate his 100th cross-country rally start (including his outings on motorbikes). Following his debut in the sport in 1980, Picard soon became one of the discipline's leading bikers but chose to put an end to his successful career on two wheels after the Paris-Le Cap in 1992. Gilles has since won the Dakar twice for Mitsubishi, including once with Luc Alphand with whom he first teamed up in 2005. "I've been in the sport 28 years now, and I think I must have started something like 1,500 stages. Today's win was the perfect way to mark my 'century'!"

After finishing second on the Rali Transiberico in 2006 and 2007, Nani Roma believed he had a chance of finishing one place higher this time round when he inherited the lead on Thursday afternoon. However, he never lost sight of the fact that his main mission here in Portugal was to contribute to the development of the new diesel-engined Pajero/Montero Evolution MPR14. Meanwhile, his personal goal before the start was to adapt his driving style to the special requirements of competing with diesel power and his score of three stage wins suggests that he is a quick learner. "For sure, it would have been nice to win," admitted the Spaniard, "and it's obviously a shame that the lead slipped from our hands so close to the finish. That said, I believe we and the team did some good work in Portugal, and that will obviously be beneficial for the future. Our only problem - with the power steering - had nothing to do with the engine and, anyway, we were all here to learn. I think it's been a very positive week." For the record, Roma was accredited with the fastest average speed (80.16kph) over the five days (nine stages, and excluding time penalties) ahead of team-mate Alphand in the MPR13 (79.63kph) and the best-placed non-Mitsubishi runner (Al-Attiyah, 78.85kph).

St?phane Peterhansel was contesting for the first time and led briefly at the beginning of the rally but fell back after going off in Friday morning's particularly delicate conditions. Knowing that he had lost all chance of challenging for the lead, he nonetheless recovered from the setback to finish fifth overall and spent the rest of the rally evaluating the latest BFGoodrich [All-Terrain] tyre and testing a certain number of suspension solutions. "I must say I found this event to be very professionally organised and I loved the stages," he said after the finish. "We threw away our chance on SS4, but congratulations to Luc and Gilles. They did a sound job to ensure victory for Mitsubishi, and I was obviously keeping one eye on Nani's performance with the diesel engine, too. It didn't have any problems and seems to have a made a big step forward. And that can only be good for all of us"

Team Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart's 2008 programme continues with the Baja Espana July 17-20.

2008/05/27 | 19:13 CET | Editor: MR/HS/MMSP

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