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After ending Day 1 of the inaugural Central Europe Rally with a slight deficit compared with the early pace-setters, Team Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart's drivers turned the tables on their rivals today to move up the leaderboard. Stéphane Peterhansel/Jean-Paul Cottret (France) set the fastest time over the morning's stage to ease into the provisional lead, while Luc Alphand/Gilles Picard (France) and Nani Roma/Lucas Cruz (Spain) both moved up the order into 4th and 5th places respectively despite the mixed bag of challenging conditions.
Hiroshi Masuoka/Pascal Maimon (Japan/France) continued to put the new diesel-powered Pajero/Montero Evolution MPR14 through its paces and follow in tenth spot after gathering a host of valuable information.
Today's action marked another step into unknown territory for competitors who got their first taste of the 76km stage in the mountains that tower over Baia Mare and which is scheduled to be contested four times this week (two passes today, plus two more on Tuesday).
Mitsubishi's Luc Alphand, who profited from the day to gain three places from overnight 7th, painted an enthusiastic picture of this eagerly awaited test: "An excellent stage, but again very different to what we are accustomed to in cross-country rallying," he reported after the morning's first attempt. "It took us over a high mountain pass and included a section of perhaps 3km that was lined by snow walls. The hot spring weather is causing the lingering snow to melt fast, though, and that resulted in cascades of water running across the stage and streaming down the ruts. The scenery was splendid, with lots of steep drops, but most of the stage was reasonably wide, with only perhaps a quarter of the distance on narrower tracks. The surface itself was pretty rocky and fairly hard-wearing, but there was also mud in places and grip was very unpredictable. The surface seemed to be fairly hard-packed this morning, but it will almost certainly suffer once the whole field – including the trucks – has been through."
Luc Alphand read the situation well since the organisers were forced to shorten the afternoon's repeat run which saw Stéphane Peterhansel successfully defend the lead carved out by his assertive drive this morning. He heads former World Rally Champion Carlos Sainz (2nd) tonight by 22 seconds. "The gaps were small after Sunday's stage and today's result confirms that there was no cause for panic," related the three-time Dakar winner. "Everybody is having to discover this event as we go along and today's stages were very challenging. I found a good pace this morning and posted the fastest time which put me in front. I didn't manage to find quite the same rhythm in this afternoon's drier, rougher conditions, but it's been an excellent day overall."
The organisers effectively chose to shorten the afternoon’s repeat run which saw Stéphane Peterhansel successfully defend the lead carved out by his assertive drive this morning. He heads former World Rally Champion Carlos Sainz (2nd) tonight by 22 seconds. "The gaps were small after Sunday's stage and today's result confirms that there was no cause for panic," related the three-time Dakar winner. "Everybody is having to discover this event as we go along and today's stages were very challenging. I found a good pace this morning and posted the fastest time which put me in front. I didn't manage to find quite the same rhythm in
this afternoon's drier, rougher conditions, but it's been an excellent day overall."
Team-mate Nani Roma follows in fifth place tonight thanks to two top-six times, although an overshoot this afternoon cost him valuable time. "Lucas called out a 'slot right' but it came a little too late for me to turn safely," he explained. "I had to continue for a further 600 metres or so before I could find a suitable place to turn round, which made an unnecessary round-trip of more than a kilometre. That obviously cost us a chunk of time! Even so, I was happy with my driving; I was a little short of match practice before the start but I'm already beginning to feel much more comfortable and, like Luc and Gilles, we have moved three places up the leaderboard since this morning!"
Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart Team Director Dominique Serieys (France) was swift to praise his four crews this evening for the solid job they did in today's difficult conditions: "Stéphane is leading and all three petrol-powered MPR13s are inside the top five which is covered by less than three minutes. Meanwhile, Hiroshi is doing exactly what has been asked of him IN the diesel-engined Pajero/Montero Evolution. Today's stages have taught us quite a lot and, even though our objective is not to aim for a top result at all costs, he figures inside the top-ten which isn't bad at all given the mission he has been set."
"I am very pleased with the way my MPR14 performed today," confirmed the Japanese driver himself. "Although I've been busy doing lots of testing recently, I am a little bit rusty because I haven't actually competed on an event since the 2007 Dakar. I am beginning to find my marks again, though, and we are starting to get a better understanding of the diesel engine. We have already made some detail changes to its settings despite today's slippery conditions."
This evening will see competitors spend a second night in Baia Mare, Romania before a repeat of today's programme on Tuesday. This includes two further attempts at the same 76km stage and the organisers are hoping to run the complete test again after being compelled to slash this afternoon's run to just 36km.
Survivors will then head back east across the border to Hungary's second-biggest city, Debrecen, where they will spend
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