Mitsubishi Motors made history today when its Pajero / Montero Evolution crew of Luc Alphand and Gilles Picard won the 2006 Dakar Rally, claiming a record-breaking 11th overall victory and sixth consecutive win for the Japanese manufacturer on this legendary rally. Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart team-mates Joan 'Nani' Roma and Henri Magne also finished on the podium in third position, while defending champions Stéphane Peterhansel and Jean-Paul Cottret took fourth overall.
The grueling event, which started on December 31, 2005, covered more than 9,000 kilometers and all three Mitsubishi Pajero / Montero Evolutions barely missed a beat as they powered over some of Africa's most remote and inhospitable terrain. The team's only disappointment during the last 16 days was the retirement of its fourth car, driven by Hiroshi Masuoka and Pascal Maimon.
The outright success is the first for Alphand - last year's runner-up and a former World Downhill skiing champion - and the second for his French co-driver Gilles Picard, who had won the Dakar with fellow countryman Jean-Pierre Fontenay in 1998.
The Mitsubishi Pajero / Montero Evolution crew had taken the outright lead between Bamako in Mali and Labé in Guinea, when former multiple winner Peterhansel crashed into a tree and damaged his rear suspension and transmission. Despite fierce pressure from second-placed South African driver Giniel de Villiers, Alphand took few risks over the closing three days of the 15-leg event to record a winning margin of 17 minutes and 53 seconds after the final timed section near Dakar was cancelled.
"I knew I had a great chance to win. The team worked so hard on the development of our car and I think over the 15 days we were the better all-round outfit. It's a fantastic feeling to win the Dakar. I experienced many highs and lows in my skiing career, but this is so different." said Alphand.
Roma joined the Mitsubishi team for his first event in October 2005 and finished sixth on his Dakar debut on four wheels last year. On this occasion he and Andorra-based co-driver Magne finished a superb third overall in a second Mitsubishi Pajero / Montero Evolution. "It has been a fantastic race from the start. All the time it has been close, exciting and very difficult for the drivers and co-drivers. For me it is great to be on the podium. I am part of a superb team at Mitsubishi and everyone has worked so hard to achieve this success." said the Spain-born Roma.
The French duo of Peterhansel and Cottret had moved into the outright lead of the event on the second of four stages through the Islamic Republic of Mauritania last week. But the eight-time winner then struck a tree and lost over three hours and any chance of taking a hat-trick of wins. "I made a mistake a few days ago and with the level of competition we have seen this year on the Dakar, there was no way I could recover that time. I am disappointed that I could not complete the hat-trick of wins, but Mitsubishi has won the race and that is the priority. It is also great for Luc and Gilles to take their first win together." said Peterhansel.
Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart team president Isao Torii said that he was happy for every member of the team "I would like to thank everyone for their work and thanks also to our partners and sponsors for their efforts. I have been with this team for the last two victories and this was the most exciting of the lot. It has been a privilege to be a part of this success and to see the French and Japanese members of the team working together so successfully. Tomorrow we will switch our focus to preparing to win the race for a seventh successive time in 2007," added Mr. Torii.
A delighted Dominique Serieys (Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart team director) claimed that they have had a smaller team and a smaller budget than their rivals this year, but have performed superbly well. He joked, "Last year I could count our Dakar victories on two hands, but now that we have won 11 times I have a missing finger! It was not an easy race, but our entire team showed complete motivation to reach our target of six successive wins."
In conclusion, Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart Team technical director Thierry Viardot said, "I think the deciding factor on this year's Dakar was our overall team experience and the knowledge of our drivers. It was very close in the early stages, but I was confident that there were three days in Mauritania where Mitsubishi would have the advantage. We made a wise tire choice when it mattered, our teams made only minor mistakes in the dunes and with the navigation, and they coped well under pressure."
Mitsubishi's long experience of cross country competition - which started with an entry into the Dakar in 1983 - came to the forefront once again. Six successive victories and 11 overall victories is testament to the strength, durability and endurance of the all-conquering Mitsubishi Pajero / Montero Evolution.