Mitsubishi Motors made history today by becoming the first team on record to win five consecutive Dakar Rallies and claim 10 overall victories in what is considered to be the toughest and most demanding cross country event in the world.
The Pajero / Montero Evolution crew of Stéphane Peterhansel and Jean-Paul Cottret claimed their second victory behind the wheel of Mitsubishi’s dominant machinery, while team-mates Luc Alphand and Gilles Picard finished close on their heels in a fine second overall.
Joan ’Nani’ Roma, who was competing in the event for the first time in a car, finished an impressive sixth with co-driver Henri Magne in the Mitsubishi Motors Repsol ATS Studios team’s third Pajero / Montero Evolution.
"I am very proud of the hard work put in by the entire team", said Isao Torii, President of Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports. "When I visited Atâr at the half-way point I saw the appalling working conditions the whole team has faced and it is a testament to their determination that we have achieved this superb success".
Neither Peterhansel nor Alphand made any effort to outpace their rivals over today’s short 31 competitive kilometer stage, both Mitsubishi Pajero / Montero Evolution crews with nearly three hours in hand to third-placed Jutta Kleinschmidt.
Peterhansel finished the stage around the Lac Rose in 11th position while Alphand was just one second adrift in 12th.
The pair arrived in an emotional and highly-impressive one-two formation at the finish of this 8,956 kilometer and 16-leg event that was fought out over 5,431 competitive kilometers.
"I was very nervous this morning", said Dakar victor Peterhansel. "It was only a small stage, but it is never easy and anything can and sometimes does happen. This is a big victory for me. It was harder than last year. The race was difficult and the difference between myself and Luc was much smaller than my winning margin last year. That shows it was a great race right to the end".
Second-placed Luc Alphand added: "I have a fantastic feeling! The team was perfect; I am working with the best in the world. The goal was a podium, but this is the biggest second position of my life. The work level and professionalism of everyone has been astonishing".
Team Director of the most successful manufacturer in Dakar history concluded: "It is a fantastic feeling of pride and achievement for me and the entire team. I felt quite emotional at the finish to see our team in first and second positions. It was a tough race, held in very difficult circumstances, and we have now achieved that magic figure of 10 wins on the Dakar and are now unbeaten on this race in the last five years".
In the 27-year history of the world’s most famous off-road rally no manufacturer of cars, bikes and trucks can match the Japanese company’s winning record.
Joan ’Nani’ Roma, piloting the team’s third Pajero / Montero Evolution, finished his first Dakar Rally on four wheels in a fine sixth overall.
"For me to finish sixth is a pleasing achievement", said Roma, last year’s winner in the bike category. ’It was my first Dakar with the Mitsubishi team and I hope that this was the start of a successful new career with the team".
Akira Kijima, Managing Director and Head of Product Operations for Mitsubishi Motors and responsible for motor sport activities, said: "Mitsubishi Motors’ involvement in motor sport is not merely a promotional activity, but is really at the heart of the Mitsubishi Motors brand. We feed the technology and know-how gained from our various motor sport activities directly into all our cars, also giving them a sporty spirit and desirable image. Through motor sport, our production vehicles therefore not only have improved durability and safety, but good road performance and driving capability. Mitsubishi cars have long been known for their sturdiness, endurance and robustness, and it is these qualities that are derived from our participation in motor sport. We intend to strengthen these activities and, in so doing, raise the value of the Mitsubishi Motors brand".
Like every other team contesting the Dakar, Mitsubishi also suffered disappointment on route to its 10th victory. Japanese driver Hiroshi Masuoka, twice winner of the Dakar, had been one of the pre-event favorites, but he and German co-driver Andreas Schulz were withdrawn from the race in Atâr after delays cost them valuable time. The team took what proved to be the right decision to concentrate resources on its surviving cars.
Germany’s Andrea Mayer and French co-driver Jean-Michel Polato - the team’s rapid support crew - were also forced out after a stone damaged the crankshaft sensor in their Mitsubishi L200 Pick-Up. Polato attempted to repair the damage, but team management reached the decision to withdraw the car from the race in Atar rather than overstretch support resources.
The 2005 Telefónica Dakar Rally began in Barcelona, Spain, on New Year’s Eve and included 15 competitive sections in five countries.
The Mitsubishi Pajero / Montero Evolution crews claimed victory in five of the stages, Peterhansel winning four with Alphand taking the fastest time through the Tidjikja to Atâr section (Leg 9).
Mitsubishi’s long experience of cross country competition came to the forefront once again. Five successive victories and 10 overall victories is testament to the strength, durability and endurance of the all-conquering Mitsubishi Pajero / Montero Evolution.
Ralliart customers Kolberg, Housieaux and Holowczyc make it to Dakar
The Brazilian Mitsubishi Ralliart crew of Klever Kolberg and Roldan Lourival finished the 27th Dakar Rally in 16th position overall in their Pajero / Montero, the first of three surviving Ralliart cars.
"It was a long, hard race this year", said Kolberg in Dakar. "We had a few small problems on the way, but settled into a good pace over the last few stages and I set the sixth fastest time on one section".
After serious delays and an accident earlier in the event, team-mates Dominique Housieaux and Loïc Fagot reach their goal of Dakar in 54th place in similar machinery
"I was running well over the last few days until we had the accident", said Housieaux at the finish. "It was very annoying to lose so much time so close to the end, but when you see Lac Rose and realize that you have made it to the finish of The Dakar it is a sweet feeling".
Krzysztof Holowczyc and Belgian co-driver Jean-Marc Fortin also fell down the leaderboard during the Dakar competition, a 17 hour delay with no fuel putting paid to a top finish. But the former Polish and European Rally Champion nevertheless finished his first Dakar in 60th place.
"It was a fantastic new experience for me to take part in The Dakar", said Holowczyc. "It was so different to any race that I had done before and maybe I should have gained some experience before I came here. I have learned many things about driving in the dunes and in the sand. Obviously I felt more comfortable on the faster and more technical stages, like those you find in the WRC, and it was quite a shock to be driving for several hundred kilometers each day. I have been used to much shorter stages in the past".
Three of the nine original Ralliart teams finished one of the most difficult Dakars of recent years. Russians Alexey Berkut and Anton Nikolaev were forced to retire on the stage from Atâr to Kiffa when the cylinder head gasket failed in their Mitsubishi L200 Pick-Up. The car was later repaired at the Kiffa bivouac and driven to the finish in Dakar. Dutchman Toni van Deijne was forced out with transmission problems on the Atâr to Kiffa stage.
Chinese driver Guan Yuang Men’s introduction to The Dakar was a dramatic one. Along with French co-driver Serge Henninot, he survived a low-speed roll only to become stranded in the stage between Zouérat and Tichit when the gearbox failed. The pair spent three nights and two days in the desert before the organizers sent a helicopter to collect them.
"An airplane dropped us some food and water and acknowledged that we were with the car and safe", said Men. "We just had enough rations to keep us going until the helicopter picked us up. The gearbox had broken and we were just stuck in the middle of nowhere, helpless to do anything until assistance arrived. We slept for three nights on the sand by the car. It was a scary and very unusual experience..."
Swiss driver Arnold Meier was forced out before Tichit. Meier had a minor rear differential problem and decided to withdraw at the first passage control into Tichit.
Thailand’s Siriwattanakun Pornsawan lost over 10 minutes in the stage into Agadir when he was forced to stop in the dust of a slower competitor. But the Mitsubishi Truck Evolution driver’s luck turned ran out when he complained of severe back pain at the team’s hotel in Agadir and was forced to withdraw from the event with a back injury.
There was disappointment for the Portuguese driver Francisco Inocencio and his co-driver Joao Luz. A diesel pressure pump problem had prevented them from starting the opening Barcelona stage on New Year’s Eve.