DAKAR, Sénégal - Team Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart rewrote the history books by claiming a seventh successive victory in the punishing 2007 Dakar Rally after the final 16km special stage, near Dakar, in Sénégal on Sunday.
The success was a record-breaking 12th win in the team's 25-year history of competing in the world's toughest and most famous off-road rally. The French crew of Stéphane Peterhansel and Jean-Paul Cottret won the event for the third time in four years in their Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero Evolution and beat their team mates and defending champions Luc Alphand and Gilles Picard by a margin of just seven minutes 26 seconds, after 15 days of bruising competition across Portugal, Morocco, Mauritania, Mali and Sénégal.
"I was very nervous on the last big African special stage yesterday and I just drove very slowly on the beach this morning," said Peterhansel. "It was not necessary to do the show for the crowd and the television on the last stage. When I won my first motorcycle race in Tunisia, I did not win a special stage, so in my head it was never a problem not to win a special stage on this Dakar. It is not that important.
"Taking the overall victory on the Dakar is the important thing. It is the best feeling. Our new MPR13 is very good and very fast, but I am sure that we can make even more improvements this year before we come back to try and win the Dakar again in 2008."
The Japanese manufacturer hit the front on the ninth special stage between Tichit and Néma in the Mauritanian Sahel, when long-time leader Giniel de Villiers suffered turbocharger problems and lost his place in the top 10.
For the last six days of the rally, Mitsubishi controlled proceedings through careful team management, a professional approach by each of the drivers and thorough car preparation to record victory without the need to take a single stage win.
Mitsubishi also failed to clinch a stage win in 2001 when Jutta Kleinschmidt and Andreas Schulz clinched overall victory for the Japanese manufacturer.
The statistic proved that individual stage wins on an event of the punishing nature of the Dakar are largely irrelevant.
"I won the race last year, but the important thing was to give the team victory again this time," said runner-up Alphand. "This morning it was like a party on the beach, with friends, the ocean and the victory. We proved that we have great team spirit, real determination and the best group of people."
Japan's Hiroshi Masuoka and Pascal Maimon lost their chance of taking a podium finish with two time-consuming clutch problems and a series of flat tires, but the twice former winner reached Lac Rose in fifth position after a late time penalty cost rival Nasser Al-Attiyah his place in the top five.
"This is my first Dakar finish for three years and it was a nice feeling to reach the end," said Masuoka. "But I had some problems in the early stages and this cost me my chance of a win. The team has again proved that experience is crucial on an event like the Dakar. Now we can look forward to the future and our continued success in this rally."
Spaniards Joan 'Nani' Roma and Lucas Cruz finished their first Dakar Rally together in 13th position, after clutch problems and a low-speed roll in the Mauritanian sand dunes pushed them out of contention. They were ninth fastest on the final stage, near Dakar, on Sunday, despite the fact that Roma was competing with a broken thumb after the incident with a tree stump on Saturday en route to Dakar.
"It was not my turn to win the Dakar this year, but it has been another great learning curve for me," said Roma. "It was my first event with Lucas and we have worked well together. I had some problems, but it is great to see the team continuing its winning streak. I can look forward to another season with Mitsubishi and planning ahead for the next Dakar, when it could be my turn to take the victory."
Team Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart management dedicated the Dakar win to the memory of co-driver Henri Magne, who lost his life in a tragic accident during last June's Rally of Morocco. His wife and adopted child joined the team for the podium at Lac Rose. Magne won the Dakar Rally on two occasions and was third overall last year with Joan 'Nani' Roma.
"I am very proud that we have managed to record the seventh win in seven years," said MMSP's Managing and Sporting Director Dominique Serieys. "The new car won out of the box with a couple of minor problems with some external components and this bodes well for the ongoing development throughout 2007 and into 2008. I don't think that this was a difficult Dakar. For sure, our strategy was different this time, but you can see from the number of finishers that it was maybe an easier race than previous years. We had many more difficult battles with Citroën in previous Dakars.
"Last summer we suffered the tragic loss of Henri Magne and he is always in our thoughts. But life has to go on. For that reason we have dedicated this victory to his honor and to his wife Lucette and baby Louis, who have joined us in Dakar to share this special and emotional occasion."
"I am very happy for the entire team that we have achieved this victory,"
said Osama Nakayama, General Manager, Mitsubishi Motors Corporation Okazaki R&D Motor Sports Team. "But it was very difficult this year. Volkswagen made great progress with their cars and it was a super fight for many days. We had some problems with the clutch, but the new MPR13 has won its first Dakar outing. For the future we will look to improve our chances of retaining the Dakar title and begin to develop environmentally-friendly technologies through our Cross-Country motor sport program."
Out of a capacity entry of 185 cars, 247 bikes and quads and 85 trucks, only
109 cars, 132 bikes and quads and 60 trucks reached the finish in Dakar after a shortened route of 7,915km, of which 4,309km were competitive.
Team Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart will concentrate on further developing the Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero Evolution over the coming months and will embark upon a new FIA Cross-Country Rally World Cup program this season.