January 4, 2006 The Dakar Rally, from Lisbon to Dakar (Senegal), began on Saturday 31 December 2005 with a 370 kilometre stage from Lisbon to Portimão, followed on New Year’s Day with a further 567 kilometres to Málaga, Then followed a seven hour ferry crossing to Morocco for the entire rally contingent before racing got underway in Africa. There have been no surprises to date with Mitsubishi (questing for its sixth consecutive win) and the massive Volkswagen factory Touareg effort alternately holding the lead. In the bikes, the winning marque is already a foregone conclusion with KTM machinery holding the first six places. Yesterday Volkswagen hit back strongly with multiple WRC champion Carlos Sainz skipping out to a five minute lead and Volkswagen taking the first three places overall. Last year our extensive coverage of the Dakar Rally dubbed it the “Most Dangerous Sporting Event in the World” and compared it with the famous road races of 100 years ago. This year our coverage will be written separately for motorcycles and cars.
AFTER STAGE 4
Volkswagen struck back at Mitsubishi in the second African stage of the event yesterday with works driver Carlos Sainz winning the 639 kilometre section from Er Rachidia to Ouarzazate in Morocco in the Volkswagen Race Touareg 2 and, in the process, reclaimed the overall lead that he had already held after the first two stages. "I'm surprised to be at the front again,” said Sainz. “We started twelfth, followed Luc Alphand for ages and drove at a normal pace. We didn't have the feeling that we were particularly fast. It was a significant advantage from the navigational point of view to start where we did."
Bruno Saby in second overall and Jutta Kleinschmidt in third completed the trio of 275 hp TDI diesel Volkswagen prototypes at the head of the field. Saby was delighted with the result - "We've picked up another position! A great result after such a challenging day.”
Kleinschmidt’s third place for the all-female team was a surprise for her. "Before the first check point we had to tighten bolts on the steering wheel which had vibrated loose. A tyre failure cost us additional time. We thought that the day was already over after this. It's great that we moved up a position in spite of these problems.”
The Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart team endured mixed fortunes with team drivers Luc Alphand, Joan ’Nani’ Roma, Stéphane Peterhansel and Hiroshi Masuoka completed the timed section in third, 11th, 14th and 15th positions and now hold fourth, ninth, 11th and 13th in the overall classification.
The French duo of Alphand and Gilles Picard were fifth through PC1, as they attempted to climb back up the leaderboard after a cautious run on Monday. They finished the stage in third position, behind Sainz and Frenchman Thierry Magnaldi.
"Today was again a game of avoiding the dust," said Alphand. "We had a good run for about 100 kms, but then we caught some drivers, including Stéphane, who had taken the wrong track and finished the stage in the dust again. Tomorrow is a tight stage with a fast chott at the finish, but dust will be a factor."
Overnight leaders Roma and Henri Magne started the stage in sixth place on the road and finished the section in 11th position. They slipped to ninth place on the leaderboard.
"Not a good day for me," said Roma. "After the dunes I was running well, but then we made a navigational error and took a track to the right. Then the problems started. I had a puncture after that and the jacking system was not fastened away securely and we had to stop again to secure it. Then we finished the stage in the dust."
Japan’s Masuoka and co-driver Pascal Maimon began this morning’s special stage behind yesterday’s winner Jean-Louis Schlesser and shadowed the Frenchman to the first passage control. But the twice former champion lost over 27 minutes soon after when he rolled his Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution. He eventually completed the stage in 15th place. The Japanese driver slipped to 13th overall, but his car was damaged in the accident.
"We saw this obstacle in the track far too late and we went over twice," said Masuoka. "We passed a crossroads with some spectators and then it was too late to slow for this obstacle and we crashed."
Defending champions Peterhansel and co-driver Jean-Paul Cottret held seventh place through the first passage control, but had slipped 17 minutes behind the stage winner at the finish after a costly navigational mistake. The Frenchman finished the stage 17m 44s behind the winner and is now 11th overall.
"This junction was not very clear in the road book and we followed the dust of the motor bikes," admitted Peterhansel. "We turned right, followed the wrong track for seven kilometers and then decided to go back to this junction. All the following cars saw me and took the correct way. It was very frustrating. I had passed Schlesser and Hiroshi had a puncture, so I was running first on the road."
"We had some minor and typical Dakar Rally problems today," said MMSP’s Team Director Dominique Serieys. "Stéphane lost some time with a minor navigational error. This was a case of suffering, like Carlos Sainz yesterday, when running first on the road. He tried to find a good track and everyone else benefited. I am quite happy at the moment though. There are 15 drivers out there driving at the same level, so we will see over the coming days what develops."
This evening the teams will camp at the garrison city of Ouazazate, the ’Gateway to the Desert’. The city overlooks the nearby Valley of the Draa and Valley of the Dades.
Tomorrow (Wednesday) teams will tackle a 350 kms special stage, sandwiched by a 187 kms liaison section south from Ouarzazate and a tiring 282 kms liaison to the Atlantic coastal settlement of Tan Tan. The technical stage begins at Foum-Zguid and finishes south of Tafraoute.
Results Stage 4
1. Sainz (E)/ Schulz (D) Volkswagen Touareg 3h 52m 48s 2. Magnaldi (F)/ Debron (F) Schlesser Buggy 3h 54m 48s 3. Alphand (F)/ Picard (F) Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero Evolution 3h 55m 58s 4. de Villiers (ZA)/ Thörner (S) Volkswagen Touareg 3h 56m 04s 5. Saby (F)/ Périn (F) Volkswagen Touareg 3h 57m 41s 6. Kleinschmidt (D)/ Pons (I) Volkswagen Touareg 3h 57m 56s 7. Al-Attiyah (QA)/ Guehennec (F) BMW X3 CC 3h 58m 19s 8. Schlesser (F)/ Borsotto (F) Schlesser Buggy 3h 58m 20s 9. Servias (E)/ Al Caraz (F) Schlesser Buggy 3h 59m 17s 10. Miller (USA)/ Van Zitzewitz (D) Volkswagen Touareg 4h 00m 29s
Standings after Stage 4
1. Sainz (E)/ Schulz (D) Volkswagen Touareg 9h 21m 18s 2. Saby (F)/ Périn (F) Volkswagen Touareg 9h 26m 09s 3. Kleinschmidt (D)/ Pons (I) Volkswagen Touareg 9h 26m 27s 4. Alphand (F)/ Picard (F) Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero Evolution 9h 27m 57s 5. de Villiers (ZA)/ Thörner (S) Volkswagen Touareg 9h 28m 11s 6. Schlesser (F)/ Borsotto (F) Schlesser Buggy 9h 30m 20s 7. Al-Attiyah (QA)/ Guehennec (F) BMW X3 CC 9h 30m 23s 8. Miller (USA)/ Van Zitzewitz (D) Volkswagen Touareg 9h 31m 21s 9. Roma (E)/ Magne (AND) Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero Evolution 9h 31m 42s 10. Magnaldi (F)/ Debron (F) Schlesser Buggy 9h 34m 42s
AFTER STAGE 3
Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart team driver Joan ’Nani’ Roma and co-driver Henri Magne set the sixth fastest time in the first African stage of this year’s Dakar Rally between Nador and Er Rachidia in Morocco today, displacing Volkswagen’s Carlos Sainz from the lead after the multiple world rally champion got lost. Capping a successful day for the Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart Team, Japan’s Hiroshi Masuoka and French co-driver Pascal Maimon set the second fastest time behind French stage winner Jean-Louis Schlesser in his self-constructed, Ford-engined machine. American Robbie Gordon in a Hummer is the only contender who has encroached on the Volkswagen/Mitsubishi duel and he currently holds eighth place
Third placed Frenchman Bruno Saby was eighth on today’s stage, but was not happy with his finish to the day which cost him the opportunity to lead the event when he had a tyre failure. "It goes without saying that I'm pleased to have improved by one position to third place. We lost time 40 kilometres before the finish because of tyre failure on the rear right. We had to overtake a lot of motorbikes on the edge of the track, where the danger of damaging a tyre increases.”
Volkswagen’s Carlos Sainz (E) finished the leg in twelfth place, dropping him to fourth position overall. "Today we noticed just what it means to be the first car into the stage,” he said. “There were no dust trails from a leading car to follow, so we had to plot our route alone. Unfortunately we also got lost. The absence of the GPS data is very apparent.”
Fifth placed overall after the day was female German driver Jutta Kleinschmidt. "I've no complaints about fourth fastest time of the day, especially when you think just how difficult the navigation was and particularly as we also had to drive 60 kilometres in the dust cloud of the car in front. It was possible, but very risky to overtake,” she said.
Mitsubishi team mates Stéphane Peterhansel and Luc Alphand completed the stage in third and 11th places and now hold sixth and ninth in the overall classification. A former winner of the Dakar Rally motorcycle division, Roma and co-driver Henri Magne had begun the day in fourth place, before arriving in Er Rachidia as the overall leaders.
"I am very surprised and happy to be leading" said Roma. "I just tried to reach the finish without any mistakes. I had no real problems and I will continue with this strategy tomorrow - just drive and make no mistakes. It is dangerous to push in the dust. At one point there were 10 or 15 bikes together."
Today’s 314 kms stage offered a mixture of twisty gravel tracks, technical off-road sections, the occasional perilous wadi crossing and some navigation. It finished at Beni Tadjite, 121 kms from the overnight bivouac, adjacent to the small elevated airstrip at Er Rachidia.
Masuoka and French co-driver Maimon, with whom he won the Dakar Rally for the first time in 2002, held third overall through the opening passage control at the 122 kms point this morning, but were the first car across the finish line after starting sixth on the road.
"Today there was a lot of dust," said Masuoka. "We drove for about 200 kms with Carlos (Sainz), Luc and (Nasser) Al-Attiyah. Then I overtook Luc, Carlos lost his way a little and I was in second position. Then I overtook Nasser and was first at the end of the stage. There were many motorcycles."
Peterhansel and co-driver Jean-Paul Cottret entered Africa in 10th position in the overall standings and rose to sixth place. "Today’s stage was difficult with the number of bikes and cars running closely together," said Peterhansel. "I kept my distance to avoid the dust and to avoid having any problems in some big holes in the rocky tracks."
Alphand and co-driver Gilles Picard began the first African stage behind the early leader Carlos Sainz, but slipped to ninth in the results after losing time in rivals’ dust.
We let Carlos, Nasser and Hiroshi past us today and then we were in dust," said Alphand. "If you want to finish the stage safely you need to leave a gap behind the car in front in the dust. It was just like a long train of cars and bikes today. There was no chance to get into a rhythm."
"We opted for a safe strategy over the first few days in Morocco, but it is very pleasing to be, not only in touch with our rivals, but actually leading the rally with the first two places," said Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart Team Director Dominique Serieys. "’Nani’ has really benefited from his recent experience and again proved that we have four drivers who can win the Dakar this year."
"I told our drivers that Volkswagen are the main rivals, but we should also watch out for Jean-Louis Schlesser and Robbie Gordon and ’Schless’ proved the point and was the fastest today. We will maintain our strategy and see what develops. But it was a good day for us."
Tomorrow (Tuesday) is the longest special stage of the event so far, starting 56 kms from Er Rachidia, north of Erfoud, and finishing 197 kms from Ouarzazate, near the town of Tagounite. The 386 kms special offers a fine balance of twisty and rocky tracks, high-speed roads, laterite piste and stretches of treacherous sand.
Stage 1 Results
1. Sainz/ Schulz (E/D), Volkswagen Touareg; 56.20 min. 2. Sousa/ Lurquin (P/B), Nissan Pick-up; 57.50 min. + 1.30 min. 3. Saby/ Périn (F/F), Volkswagen Touareg; 58.11 min. + 1.51 min. 4. Kleinschmidt/ Pons (D/I), Volkswagen Touareg; 58.44 min + 2.24 min. 5. Chicherit/ Baumel (F/F), BMW X3; 59.22 min. + 3.02 min. 6. Roma/ Magne (E/F), Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution; 59.32 min. + 3.12 min. 7. Alphand/ Picard (F/F), Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution; 59.40 min. + 3.20 min. 8. de Villiers/ Thörner (RSA/S), Volkswagen Touareg; 59.48 min. + 3.28 min. 9. Magnaldi/ Debron (F/F), Schlesser-Ford; 59.50 min. (9.) + 3.30 min. 10. Miller/ von Zitzewitz (USA/D), Volkswagen Touareg; 1:00.00 hrs. + 3.40 min.
Stage 2 Results
1. / Schulz (E/D), Volkswagen Touareg; 1:34:28 2. Alphand/ Picard (F/F), Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution; 1:34:53 min. +00:25 3. Al-Attiyah (QA)/ Guehennec (F) BMW X3 CC; 1:34:56 mins +00:28 4. Masuoka (J)/ Maimon (F) Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution; 1:35:29 +01:01 5. Roma/ Magne (E/F), Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution; 1:35:30 + 01:02 6. Peterhansel (F)/ Cottret (F) Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution; 01:36:53, +2:25 7. Saby/ Périn (F/F), Volkswagen Touareg; 1:36:59, +2:31 8. Sousa/ Lurquin (P/B), Nissan Pick-up; 1:37:30, +3:02 9. Miller/ von Zitzewitz (USA/D), Volkswagen Touareg; 1:37:40, +3:12 10 Kleinschmidt/ Pons (D/I), Volkswagen Touareg; 1:37:53, +3:25
Stage 3 Results
1. Schlesser (F)/ Borsotto (F) Schlesser Buggy 2h 50m 58s 2. Masuoka (J)/ Maimon (F) Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution 2h 51m 17s 3. Peterhansel (F)/ Cottret (F) Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution 2h 51m 35s 4. Kleinschmidt (D)/ Pons (I) Volkswagen Touareg 2h 51m 54s 5. Gordon (USA)/ Skilton (USA) Hummer 2h 52m 28s 6. Roma (E)/ Magne (AND) Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero Evolution 2h 52m 32s 7. Miller (USA)/ Van Zitzewitz (D) Volkswagen Touareg 2h 53m 12s 8. Saby (F)/ Périn (F) Volkswagen Touareg 2h 53m 18s 9. de Villiers (ZA)/ Thörner (S) Volkswagen Touareg 2h 53m 26s 10. Al-Attiyah (QA)/ Guehennec (F) BMW X3 CC 2h 54m 34s 11. Alphand (F)/ Picard (F) Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero Evolution 2h 57m 26s 12. Sainz (E)/ Schulz (D) Volkswagen Touareg 2h 57m 42s
Overall Car Results after stage 3:
1. Roma (E)/ Magne (AND) Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution 5h 27m 34s 2. Masuoka (J)/ Maimon (F) Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution 5h 27m 40s 3. Saby (F)/ Périn (F) Volkswagen Touareg 5h 28m 28s 4. Sainz (E)/ Schulz (D) Volkswagen Touareg 5h 28m 30s 5. Kleinschmidt (D)/ Pons (I) Volkswagen Touareg 5h 28m 31s 6. Peterhansel (F)/ Cottret (F) Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution 5h 29m 10s 7. Miller (USA)/Dirk Van Zitzewitz (D) Volkswagen Touareg 5h 30m 52s 8. Gordon (USA)/ Skilton (USA) Hummer 5h 31m 45s 9. Alphand (F)/ Picard (F) Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution 5h 31m 59s 10. Schlesser (F)/ Borsotto (F) Schlesser Buggy 5h 32m 00s 11. Al-Attiyah (QA)/ Guehennec (F) BMW X3 CC 5h 32m 04s 12. de Villiers (ZA)/ Thörner (S) Volkswagen Touareg 5h 32m 07s