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FIA International Cup for Cross Country Bajas Baja Espana Aragon 08-20 July 2008 Leg 3 - (Global)
July 24th, 2008
ROMA SECURES 2ND PLACE ON THE BAJA ESPANA FOR TEAM REPSOL MITSUBISHI RALLIART
Following his victory for Mitsubishi on the Baja Espana in 2005, and his runner-up finish behind team-mate Stéphane Peterhansel (France) this time last year, this weekend saw Nani Roma (Spain) complete his home event in the medals for the third time in three participations.
Along with his co-driver Lucas Cruz (Spain), the Team Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart driver emerged as the biggest threat to early leader Nasser Al-Attiyah, and the Spanish pair did all they could to keep up the pressure all the way to the finish. They lost ground with two punctures on the first full day of competition (Friday), however, and were then hampered in their bid to strike back by hanging dust on Saturday morning. Despite his best efforts at the wheel of his petrol-powered Pajero/Montero Evolution MPR13, Roma was forced to recognise the performance advantage that the current regulations hand the diesel cars of his rivals. "It's a situation we just have to live with for the moment in the knowledge that everyone at MMSP and in Japan is working very hard to prepare for the future," he observed during the event.
Indeed, the Spaniard had been able to judge the potential of the new diesel engine that will spearhead Mitsubishi's challenge in the years ahead when he came close to winning May's Rali Transiberico in Portugal with the latest Pajero/Montero Evolution MPR14. Meanwhile, Mitsubishi Motors Corporation recently revealed the exciting new diesel-powered Mitsubishi Racing Lancer MRX09 which is due to take over soon from the exceptionally successful Pajero/Montero.
The latest 3 liter V6 powerplant is currently under intensive development, and Hiroshi Masuoka/Pascal Maimon (Japan/France) provided a glimpse of its speed with a second fastest time on the first day of the 25th anniversary Baja Espana. Unfortunately, the Japanese driver's challenge came to an end on the following leg when his MPR14 was consumed by flames. Masuoka was trying to get back onto the stage after an off on Saturday afternoon when the hot brakes of another car that had left the road at the same place set fire to the surrounding grass. Both machines were destroyed in the ensuing blaze.
Happily, nobody was hurt but the incident occurred just minutes after the team had received news that Luc Alphand/Gilles Picard (France) and their MPR13 were also stopped on the same stage, the longest of the weekend. The French driver had fallen sick shortly before the start of the event with a case of suspected food poisoning, but he succeeded in limiting the damage on Leg 1. He figured in the top-three behind Roma for much of the day but was squeezed off the podium near the finish of Friday's final stage after shattering his two left-hand side wheels against a rock. The next morning saw him bounce back to close to within less than a minute of third place but his run was ultimately halted by a transmission problem on Saturday afternoon.
"It's been a very tough event and a difficult weekend for all the team," declared Team Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart Director Dominique Serieys. "We did our absolute best, but we faced several problems which prevented us from showing our true potential in terms of outright performance. All three crews lost time with punctures resulting from impacts with rocks on Leg 1. They suffered again in Saturday morning's hanging dust, and then we had Hiroshi's fire on Saturday afternoonï¿½ Nani kept up the fight all the way and he did well to finish second overall, but it is important that we take the lessons this rally has taught us onboard for the future."
"We unfortunately lost the Pajero/Montero Evolution MPR14 which was destroyed in Saturday's fire," said Osamu Nakayama the President of MMSP SAS. "That is obviously very disappointing, but this car carried out a very important mission for us as we developed our new V6 diesel engine. It covered more than 8,000km in testing and competition and this work was key to preparing the foundations for the development of the Mitsubishi Racing Lancer MRX09. A page has turned, but I am pleased to confirm that the new car is already at a very advanced stage. We will now focus our energy on making it as competitive as possible in the time we have available before the 2009 Dakar."
The 2008 Baja Espana was marked by glorious sunshine from start to finish, with temperatures peaking in the mid-30s (ï¿½C) on all three days. The final leg's 126.74km stage (SS6) took competitors through high ground to the south of Zaragoza, via a route which passed constantly from one valley to another over passes situated at altitudes of up to 600 metres. The lower-lying land took crews through freshly harvested hayfields, while the scenery was dotted in many places with wind-farms and solar panels. Nani Roma profited from SS6 to claim his first fastest time of the weekend, but he was fully aware that only a problem for the leader would permit him to finish any higher than second. "It was too easy for All-Attiyah to control from in front today," he recognised. "I suppose second overall is better than not finishing at all, but we are a team that competes to win, so the way this year's Baja Espana unfolded was particularly frustrating; especially when you see all the effort and risks you take to gain time over the twisty sections wasted as soon as the terrain gets faster. But OK, we've got lots of encouraging developments coming up for the future and, despite my natural disappointment today, that is a very exciting prospect."
Team Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart's competitive programme will continue with an entry on the inaugural Pax Rally which takes place in Portugal on September 9-14. The second fixture of the newly-created Dakar Series will feature similar terrain to last May's Rali Transiberico (won by Mitsubishi's Luc Alphand and Gilles Picard) but will not include any action in Spain.