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SHINOZUKA BECOMES FIRST JAPANESE DRIVER TO WIN DAKAR AS MITSUBISHI SWEEPS UP ALL MAJOR AWARDS
On Sunday, January 19, 1997, after 15 days and *8,049 km of the world's most gruelling motor sport event, Kenjiro Shinozuka blasted along the sandy beach near the Senegalese capital of Dakar and around the Famous Pink Lake to make yet another mark in the history books by becoming the first Japanese driver ever to win the famous Dakar Rally, driving his Team Mitsubishi Oil Ralliart Pajero. In the searing heat of Senegal, many thousands of spectators gathered to cheer the Japanese hero onto the podium alongside his French navigator Henri Magne.
It was a memorable occasion for Mitsubishi whose cars filled the top four positions overall, and won almost all the major classes and categories of the event. Frenchmen Jean-Pierre Fontenay and Bruno Musmarra were second in their Team Off Road Express Mitsubishi Ralliart Pajero, and fellow countrymen Bruno Saby and Dominique Serieys were third in their Team PIAA Mitsubishi Ralliart Pajero. Japanese driver Hiroshi Masuoka and his German co-driver Andreas Schulz were fourth in the Team Car Plaza Mitsubishi Oil Ralliart Challenger.
In seventh place, winning the T3/1 class, was French pair Jean-Pierre Strugo and Bruno Cattarelli in their Mitsubishi Pajero, and the Mitsubishi International Team also cleaned up the top three places in the T1 category for near-standard vehicles with Mitsubishi Pajeros and won the Marathon class for cars not permitted to replace any major parts during the event. Portuguese driver Carlos Souza and his navigator Philippe Rey won the T1 category in their Pajero from the similar cars of Frenchmen Bruno Lhotellierie and Benoit Leheron , and Spanish crew Miguel Prieto and Carlos Mas who took the Marathon award, all in Pajeros.
For two weeks Shinozuka had battled through the hot and dusty Sahel of western and central Africa, from Senegal to Mali, Niger and back again through Mauritania in one of the most hotly contested Dakars ever. Not only was the competition hot; the strong sun of the Sahel beat down mercilessly on the 153 competitors who started the event in cars and trucks from the beginning, and by the time they reached the desert wastelands of the northern Sahel, bordering on the Sahara desert, temperatures frequently reached over 40 degrees Celsius.
Once they reached the half-way point at Agades in Niger, only a handful of minutes split the leading three Mitsubishis, and by Nema in Mauritania, scene of the toughest stages of the event, Team Manager for the Pajeros Ullrich Brehmer was forced to make the decision to declare that the leading Pajero at that point was to be unchallenged to the finish.
Despite the appearance on paper, the Dakar victory was not any easy one for Mitsubishi, for the Pajeros and the Challenger/Montero Sport faced stiff opposition across the board from the massed ranks of Nissans, Toyotas and SsangYongs, and not least from the Seat-powered prototype specials of Jean-Louis Schlesser and Jutta Kleindschmid.
Competition was intense from the start, as witnessed by the fact that there were eight different leg winners during the rally. Fontenay drew first blood for Mitsubishi by setting fastest time from Dakar to Tambacounda, but Schlesser fought back with fastest on the 594 km section to Kayes in Mali in the second day. The twisty, narrow roads of the opening legs were a marked contrast to previous years were rocky Moroccan desert stages or sandy desert sections were more the norm. This year, the competitors were faced with strenuous navigation and endless twists and turns through heavily vegetated countryside in the Sahel. Shinozuka scored his first leg win on the road to Nara, with Schlesser a close second, and with that result took the lead for the first time, but his rivals were never far behind.
Saby won the fourth leg to the near mythical town of Timbuktu, a sandy but picturesque town in Mali close to th Niger River, and thus became the rally's third leader. Then it was Fontenay's turn to win a leg as the rally progressed to Gao, although Saby remained at the top of the leaderboard with Shinozuka second and Fontenay third. Schlesser, by this time, was relegated to fourth. Shinozuka fought back on the road to Menaka, still in Mali, with his second leg win to move back into the lead, and from Menaka to Tahoua he held on by the amazingly tiny margin of just 21 seconds! Just five minutes covered the top three - the time taken to change a puncture. The threat from Schlesser had disappeared at this point when he rolled his buggy seven times after a high-speed puncture as he left Gao.
By the time the convoy of competitors had reached the half-way mark in Agades, the leaderboard looked much more like that of a World Championship sprint-type rally than a two week adventure through Africa. Shinozuka had won the leg from Tahoua to Agades, but was just 1m 42s in front, with Fontenay second and Saby a further 10 minutes adrift in third after getting stuck on a sand dune just before the competitive section finish in the uranium mining town of Arlit in Niger.
From that point it became clear that all other competition had faded and the Mitsubishi Pajeros were fighting it out amongst themselves, with Masuoka's Challenger/Montero Sport waiting to pick up the pieces in fourth place should the seemingly inevitable disaster happen if the Mitsubishis kept up their extraordinary pace.
Then Jutta Kleinschmid took over the battle her mentor and team mate Schlesser had left behind in Gao by becoming the first lady driver ever to win a leg of the Dakar on the road from Agades to Oclan as the stages became more desert-like. Shinozuka lost his lead to Jean-Pierre Fontenay, sandwiched between the Frenchman and Saby who was third.
Fontenay still led by the time the rally reached Kidal, back in Mali, but Shinozuka fought back and found himself in front again when they returned for their second visit to Timbuktu. From there they headed into Mauritania for some of the longest and toughest stages of the entire event. Fontenay was delayed by a minor electrical problem on the way to Nema, and with Shinozuka still in the lead, Team Manager Ullrich Brehmer decided that the internal competition between the Mitsubishis should stop there and then. It was time to protect Mitsubishi's domination of the podium positions, and as Shinozuka was in front at that point, he was clearly the winner and the rest of the team were to hold station from that point on and support each other to the finish in Dakar.
And so it was that the four Mitsubishis, Shinozuka followed by Fontenay, Saby and Masuoka in that order drove in virtual convoy into Senegal, not slowly, but carefully and without taking risks, ready to support each other should there be a problem. However, none of the Mitsubishis faltered even for a second, and the durable and reliable Pajeros and Challenger/Montero Sport arrived at the seaside resort of Saint Louis in perfect condition.
All that remained was the formality of the final drive to the Pink Lake and 18 km of display driving for the many thousands of spectators who crowded the beach and lakeside areas in the hot sunshine near Dakar. At the end of the stage, the Mitsubishis stood in all their glory on the gleaming podium, crews with wide smiles, widest of all Shinozuka's who was declared the first ever Japanese driver to win the prestigious Dakar.
Shinozuka declared: "It's a great feeling to win the Dakar at last. I have participated 12 times and every year I wanted to win. Now it is a dream come true. The Dakar is the most popular motor sport event for Japan and this result is good for me and good for Mitsubishi. I really enjoyed driving the T2 Pajero."
Second placed Fontenay observed: "All the stages were very nice and the car superb. The whole package with the Pajero - the brakes, suspension, engine, everything - works perfectly in harmony."
Said Saby: "For me this was a great rally. I like the new format and driving this T2 Pajero was very enjoyable no matter what the terrain was like."
Team Manager for the victorious trio of Mitsubishis, Ullrich Brehmer was ecstatic, and stated: "I think we have completed a superb Dakar to fill the podium places with Mitsubishi Pajeros."
And Masuoka, who won one competitive section from Nema to Kiffa, added: "We only had four months to test the Challenger/Montero Sport but the car was perfect and we had no problems at all apart from four punctures during the event. The Challenger's performance was better than I expected. I am very happy to get fourth place and my target next year is to be the overall winner."
Mitsubishi's success extended right through the field to include class wins in the T3, T1 and Marathon categories, including a clean sweep of the top three places once again in T1 - the class for near-standard vehicles.
Portuguese driver Carlos Souza secured first place in T1, co-driven by Philippe Rey, in a Mitsubishi Pajero having led almost from the start of the event, following a strategy of careful driving. Their only problem was worn shock absorbers which started to affect the car's handling towards the finish. Said Souza: "We drove very carefully and we were kind to the car right from the beginning. We let all the others go fast and break their cars. I was quite surprised to lead from such an early stage. The car performed perfectly and we never had any serious problems."
French pair Bruno Lhotellierie and Benoit Leheron survived a late challenge from ex-Formula One star Philippe Alliot in his Nissan to take second place in their Mitsubishi Pajero. Delighted Frenchman Lhotellierie said: "I am very happy to be second. It was hard work but the car was very good."
Spaniards Miguel Prieto and Carlos Mas had hoped to win T1 this year but after early delays in the first week, they were nevertheless happy to win the Marathon Class and collect third in T1 in their Mitsubishi Pajero. In the Marathon class, the crew is not allowed to change any major parts on the car which are all sealed by the organisers, so their achievement is all the more remarkable. Said Prieto: "I would like to have won T1, but we are lucky to be here in Dakar at all. I am very happy that I won the Marathon award."
One driver whose result exceeded his expectations was Frenchman Jean-Pierre Strugo, who entered the event in T3 for the first time along with navigator Bruno Cattarelli in their Mitsubishi Pajero. He explained: "I secretly hoped to get eighth place in Dakar but I told everyone I wanted just to be in the top 10. I was in eighth by the end of the second leg, so I was happy, but to get here in seventh place and win T3/1 was even better than my secret ambition." He also managed to win a leg from Kidal to Timbuktu.
A delighted Karl Ille, Director of Sonauto Ralliart, commented: "We have won all the classes we entered with Mitsubishis, so it cannot get better than that! It has been a brilliant rally for us."
The two Mitsubishi Trucks FR415 4WD-RS completed the rally in exceptionally good shape, with nothing other than a puncture and a slightly problematic cabin problem that was easily fixed to bother the six crew members in the two machines. Both trucks provided excellent service to the International group of Mitsubishi competitors, arriving in good time at the bivouac every evening packed with parts and support.
The two trucks proved to be very strong and agile. On wider tracks and through sweeping bends, these powerful machines were unbeatable, however.
Gilbert Versino, the French driver of the first Mitsubishi truck home, said: "The truck is superb. On fast, flowing stages it is a joy to drive, but it was very hard work. We had no mechanical problems at all - the truck is very strong."
Driver of the second truck, Granjon added: "I am very tired, but very happy to get to Dakar. The truck is very strong."
With just 83 cars and trucks making it home to Dakar, it had been one of the most fiercely contested and toughest Dakars ever. For those that survived the gruelling trek to Agades and back, contesting a massive 6,513 km of competitive sections through the Sahel and along the fringes of the Sahara, the only challenge remaining was to summon enough energy for the prize-giving in Dakar and the inevitable celebrations that were to last well into the early hours of the following morning. And the happiest of all were those in Mitsubishis who had depended upon the marque's fine reputation for strength, reliability and performance to bring them safely back to Dakar to collect the bulk of the trophies and awards. For Shinozuka, after 12 attempts at this epic event, it was a fitting climax in his long and distinguished career in competition for Mitsubishi.
*Total kilometers after route change on Stage 7 of original 8,518km
(Route change was to avoid risk in the region of the Massif.)
1 - K. SHINOZUKA / H. MAGNE (J/FR) MITSUBISHI PAJERO T2 61:58:31 2 - JP. FONTENAY / B. MUSMARRA (FR) MITSUBISHI PAJEROÅ@Å@ T2Å@Å@ +00:04:16 3 - B. SABY / D. SERIEYS (FR) MITSUBISHI PAJERO T2 +00:09:12 4 - H. MASUOKA/A. SCHULZ (J/D) MITSUBISHI CHALLENGER/MONTERO SPORTÅ@Å@ T2Å@Å@ +02:25:27 5 - J. KLEINSCHMIDT / J. BOUTAIRE (D/FR) SCHLESSER ORIGÅ@Å@ T3.2 +04:35:51 6 - S. SERVIA / G. PICARD (SP/FR) NISSAN T2 +05:15:14 7 - JP STRUGO / B. CATARELLI (FR) MITSUBISHI PAJERO T3.1 +06:20:08 8 - D. GUEDES / J. DUBOIS (POR / FR) NISSANÅ@Å@ T2 +09:23:13 9 - E. ARGAZZI / R. ARGAZZI (I) NISSAN T2 +09:40:41 10 - C. SOUZA / P. REY (POR/FR) MITSUBISHI PAJERO T1 +10:14:58 11 - B.LHOTELLERIE / B. LEHERON (FR) MITSUBISHI PAJERO T1 +11:13:10 12 - M. PRIETO / C. MAS (SP) MITSUBISHI MONTERO T1 +12:34:49 13 - J. VAN CAUWENBERGE / M. DEVOS (B/B) TOYOTA T1 +12:47:21 14 - G. VISMARA / M. CAMBIAGHI (I/I) VISMARA ORIG T3 1 +12:48:58 15 - R. VILA ALTIMIR / E. GONZALES CARPI (SP/SP) MITSUBISHI PAJERO T1 +12:59:47 16 - W. ALCARAZ / F. BORSOTTO (F/F) NISSAN T2 +13:31:09 17 - B. HANCIAUX / T. GEROME (B/B) NISSAN T1 +13:51:31 18 - J. PORCAR / R. TOURINAN (SP/SP) NISSAN T1 +13:59:03 19 - T. ASAGA / K. ITOH (J/J) TOYOTA T1 +14:17:35 20 - A. GEORGET / P. BOCANDE (F/F) NISSAN T1 +14:28:51 25 - J.P. CASSEGRAIN / M.C. CASSEGRAIN (F/F) MITSUBISHI PAJERO T1 +16:47:29 29 - B. DHONT / J.C. KAKET (B/B) MITSUBISHI PAJERO T1 +19:59:09 34 - J.J. BERTRY / J.J. GUERRIN (F/F) MITSUBISHI PAJERO T2 +21:43:13 37 - K. KOLBERG / J. MESQUITA (BR/BR) MITSUBISHI PAJERO T1 +23:37:23 38 - G. VERSINO / C.LACOURT / C. VERSINO (FR) MITSUBISHI FR415 T4 +24:16:21 41 - C. GRANJON / M. IMAI / A. MARTINEAU (FR) MITSUBISHI FR415 T4 +26:57:47 51 - E. SMULEVICI / S. SERREAU (FR) MITSUBISHI L200 T3 1 +33:38:55 59 - M. TOMOKAWA / A. ASADA (J/J) MITSUBISHI PAJERO T1 +39:53:10
GROUP T1 :
Mass-Produced Cross Country Vehicles
1 - C. SOUZA / P. REY (POR/FR) - MITSUBISHI PAJERO Petrol-driven Marathon Vehicles
1 - M. PRIETO / C. MAS (SP) - MITSUBISHI MONTERO
2 - R. VILA ALTIMIR / E. GONZALES CARPI (SP/SP) - MITSUBISHI PAJERO
GROUP T2 :
Improved Petrol -driven Cross Country Vehicles 1 - K. SHINOZUKA / H. MAGNE (J/FR) - MITSUBISHI PAJERO
2 - JP. FONTENAY / B. MUSMARRA (FR) - MITSUBISHI PAJERO
3 - B. SABY / D. SERIEYS (FR) - MITSUBISHI PAJERO
GROUP T3 1 :
Petrol Cross Country Prototype
1 - JP STRUGO / B. CATARELLI (FR) - MITSUBISHI PAJERO
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