Tokyo - The Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution/Montero Evolution crew of Hiroshi Masuoka and Andreas Schulz have won the 2003 Telefonica Dakar Rally in 49 hours, 8 minutes and 52 seconds. Masuoka's win represents Mitsubishi's third straight Dakar Rally victory and eighth triumph ever, cementing its status as the most successful manufacturer in the 25 year history of the event.
Mitsubishis dominated this year's rally, taking a clean sweep of the top four spots. The all-French crew of Jean-Pierre Fontenay and Gilles Picard claimed second in their classic Pajero/Montero, while teammates Stephane Peterhansel and Jean-Paul Cottret came in third. Portugal's Carlos Sousa and Henri Magne finished a fine fourth overall in their Mitsubishi L200 Strada.
Sunday's victory by the 42-year-old Masuoka marks his second successive win, making him only the fourth person to win back-to-back titles. "I am so very happy to win this 25th Dakar Rally", said a delighted Masuoka. "This year was a great race; it was fast and there were some good stages in Tunisia and Libya. It was hard though. Every day we were doing 160/180 km/h and it was exciting to race against Stephane, but in the second half we were more careful and reduced our speed to save the car. I was waiting in case he made a mistake."
Masuoka's success came in the new model Pajero Evolution which has been developed over the last two years and which debuted at the UAE Desert Challenge 2002.
"The car is fantastic. It was developed last year and finished at the end of August. Mitsubishi has worked very hard on the suspension settings. We tested the car for two weeks in Morocco and it showed potential from the start," he added.
"Three overall victories in a row show Mitsubishi Motors' dominance of the world's toughest overland race," said Mitsubishi Motors Corporation president and CEO Rolf Eckrodt. "We are committed to staying ahead of all our competitors for off-road vehicles also in the future. In the end, it is the customer who benefits from our passion to improve performance year by year."