VW team falters in Dakar Rally

Team Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart were the beneficiaries from a dramatic ninth special stage of the 29th Dakar Rally between Tichit and Néma in Mauritania on Monday.

After a dramatic turn of events, whereby overall rally leader Giniel de Villiers badly delayed with engine-related problems and arch rival Carlos Sainz stopped with electrical woes, the Mitsubishi crews of Stéphane Peterhansel/Jean-Paul Cottret and Luc Alphand/Gilles Picard arrived in Néma in first and second positions in the overall classification. They set the third and second fastest times on the tricky 494km special stage, which was won by Frenchman Jean-Louis Schlesser.

Peterhansel and Cottret headed into this morning’s stage behind overall leader de Villiers, but they were forced to stop and change the clutch. A late puncture failed to halt their progress and the winners of the Dakar in 2004 and 2005 arrived at the stage finish in third place to take the overall lead.

"When I saw Giniel De Villiers had stopped and there was the start of a fire on his car, it was unbelievable," said Peterhansel. "He had driven a great race so far. After that Jean-Paul and I knew we were in a good position, but we had our own problems with the clutch and spent 15 minutes changing it. Carlos, Mark Miller and Schlesser passed us and I really tried to catch them all. Then I saw Carlos stopped after a big jump and began to follow Luc. But we had a puncture near the end and I had to stop and change the wheel."After making an impressive start to the 29th Dakar Rally the Volkswagen team was dealt a cruel blow today: The factory duo Giniel de Villiers/Dirk von Zitzewitz (South Africa/Germany) started the ninth stage as leaders but, like their team mates Carlos Sainz/Michel Périn (Spain/France) in fourth place, were also stopped by a technical defect on the Race Touareg 2 during the ninth stage from Tichit to Nema in Mauritania.

A cam follower in the engine’s valve train broke on Giniel de Villiers’ car. A hole was punched in the valve cover as a result, and the escaping oil ignited on the hot turbocharger. The flames were doused immediately with the onboard fire extinguisher. The car is being towed back to the bivouac by one of the Race-Trucks. Carlos Sainz, who had led the rally comfortably, was slowed when his engine cut-out suddenly and refused to restart probably due to an electrical problem. He is also being towed to the bivouac.

Volkswagen had led the Dakar Rally convincingly from the start on 6 January in Lisbon until today, 15 January. The de Villiers/von Zitzewitz tandem held a 31 minute lead entering the ninth stage. Sainz/Périn only lost second overall on the eighth stage after a hydraulic steering hose chaffed through, and which left Sainz without steering assistance. Volkswagen was able to win six of the nine stages run to date.

Carlos Sousa/Andy Schulz (Portugal/Germany) in the Lagos Team Race Touareg and the factory pairing of Mark Miller/Ralph Pitchford (USA/South Africa) ended the ninth stage in seventh and ninth positions respectively, each about half-an-hour behind the winner after sacrificing valuable time to help Sainz. In the overall classification, which is now led by Stéphane Peterhansel (France/Mitsubishi), Miller/Pitchford and Sousa/Schulz hold sixth and seventh positions.

Standings after stage 9, Tichit (MR) – Nema (MR); 494/497 km stage 9/total

Pos.; Team; Vehicle; Stage 9; Total time
1. Stéphane Peterhansel/Jean-P. Cottret (F/F); Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution; 5h36m17s (3rd); 33h43m23s
2. Luc Alphand/Gilles Picard (F/F); Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution; 5h32m16s (2nd) + 7m50s
3. Nasser Al-Attiyah/Alain Guehennec (QT/F); BMW X3; 5h46m37s (6th) + 1h23m21s
4. Jean-Louis Schlesser/Arnaud Debron (F/F); Schlesser Buggy; 5h32m03s (1st) + 1h25m32s
5. Hiroshi Masuoka/Pascal Maimon (J/F); Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution; 5h40m41s (4th) + 2h13m44s
6. Mark Miller/Ralph Pitchford (USA/RSA); Volkswagen Race Touareg 2; 6h03m55s (10th) + 2h14m26s
7. Carlos Sousa/Andreas Schulz (P/D); Volkswagen Race Touareg 2; 6h02m24s (7th) + 4h11m29s
8. Robby Gordon/Andy Grider (USA/USA); Hummer H3; 6h05m12s (11th) + 6h20m59s
9. Stéphane Henrard/Brigitte Becue (B/B); Buggy Volkswagen; 6h31m35s (14th) + 7h18m55s
10. Pascal Thomasse/Pascal Larroque (F/F); Buggy; 7h00m22s (20th) + 7h46m30s

Coming up…

Wednesday, 17 January, Nema (MR) – Nema (MR): 366 km stage/390 km total. After the route was changed due to safety reasons, and the stage to Timbuktu was cancelled, the competitors run a loop around Nema for the Dakar Rally's tenth stage. The majority of the route runs through dunes and mixed terrain.

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