ROMA AND ALPHAND STILL IN COMMAND FOR TEAM REPSOL MITSUBISHI RALLIART, BUT PETERHANSEL LOSES GROUND
Spaniard Juan 'Nani' Roma and his co-driver Lucas Cruz continue to top the provisional classification of the 2008 Ralli Transiberico after a day of competition based entirely in their home country, close to the Portuguese border. The conditions of the third leg were made extremely slippery by heavy rain which fell during the night, but Team Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart still dominates the standings with Roma/Cruz and their team-mates Luc Alphand/Gilles Picard (France) who follow in second place.
Roma and Alphand enjoy a margin of more than 25 minutes over their closest chaser, but Stéphane Peterhansel/Jean-Paul Cottret (France) lost significant ground this morning after going off on SS4 and have dropped outside the top-ten. Many believed that the French pair would not be able to re-join the event and that they had retired. However, their 'never say die' attitude saw them reach the end of the stage, despite losing an hour trying to get their car back onto the road.
Overnight storms led the organisers to shorten today's scheduled 140,58km stage by cutting out the worst effected 69km section in the middle of the original loop thanks to a short-cut. This brought the total length of the test down to 73.25km for both the morning's and afternoon's runs. Drivers reported the roads to be extremely slippery first time through, but they were slightly drier and less tricky for the second visit as the poor, chilly weather cleared and the thermometer climbed back up to 20°C.
Despite Peterhansel's misfortunes, Team Director Dominique Serieys was pleased to see Roma and Alphand come out of today's complex conditions with such a strong lead. "It's nice to see a good, healthy fight for the lead between two of our drivers" commented the Frenchman. " We are barely a third of the way into this event, however, so we need to remain cautious because anything can still happen, Stéphane's incident this morning's provided a timely illustration of that. But that's rallying. Happily, they are still in the event, which means we will be able to learn more about the new tyre that BFGoodrich has
brought to this event."
Mitsubishi's engineers are also delighted with the data they have already gathered this week concerning the new diesel engine which is powering Roma's Pajero/Montero Evolution MPR14 on the Rali Transiberico. The mixed conditions are providing them with a great deal of valuable information and the team is making the most of this opportunity to evaluate the different modifications they are making to the powerplant every day.
"Although the total stage distance was shorter than expected today, the important thing is to cover as many competitive kilometres as we can to contribute to the development of the new engine," confirmed Roma who was given a hero's welcome by the local population as the rally spent the day in his home country of Spain. "I am pleased with our performance today. For one thing, I am feeling more and more comfortable with the diesel engine, plus we didn't make any mistakes, even though the conditions were very complex and despite the fact that we were first on the road. The stage was extremely slippery this morning, but there was more grip and a clearer line second time round."
The Spaniard's observations were echoed by Luc Alphand who was actually one second faster than his team-mate over today's two stages at the wheel of his petrol-engined Pajero/Montero Evolution MPR13. "I really enjoyed today's test which was very similar to the terrain near my house in the French Alps, so I felt very much at home," smiled the former World Champion skier. "I think we found a good pace that enabled us to keep a little margin for error but which also allowed us to stay in the fight with Nani. I'm obviously keeping one eye on how the MPR14 is going and his performance so far this week is very encouraging for everyone in the team."
Stéphane Peterhansel bounced back from his disappointment of the morning to claim the second fastest time on the afternoon's test, despite having to overtake an estimated 15 competitors. Despite losing approximately one hour because of his off, he figures just outside the provisional top-ten this evening and has every intention of continuing his fight back when competition resumes on Saturday morning. "We went off under braking in the slippery conditions of this morning's stage. Our car ended up lower than the road, with one wheel in a deep stream," he related. "It took a long time to get it back on the stage, but it didn't suffer any damage in the accident. It was only as we tried to free it that we dented a wing. The important thing is that we are still in the rally, which means we will be able to continue gathering information about the new BFGoodrich tyre. We are the only Mitsubishi crew using it this week in Portugal."
After a night in the Spanish town of Badajoz, which is just across the border from Portugal, the rally continues on Saturday with another long stage: a 204.40km loop closer to Lisbon which competitors will contest twice. The penultimate leg ends with an overnight stop in Evora, 130km east of the Portuguese capital.
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