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20th PARIS-GRANADA-DAKAR RALLY

Mitsubishi Underlines Off-Road Dominance With Repeat 1-2-3-4
Victory in Paris-Dakar Rally



For the second consecutive year, Mitsubishi has dominated the gruelling Paris-Dakar Rally, like last year filling the top four places in both the overall classification, and in the T1 Marathon category for production cars on the 20th running of the famous event. This year it was experienced Frenchman Jean-Pierre Fontenay, co-driven by his new partner Gilles Picard, who took the overall victory in his Team Off-Road Express Mitsubishi Ralliart Pajero, enjoying his first Dakar win after many attempts.

It was, everyone agreed, one of the toughest Dakars in living memory, covering over 10,000 km in 18 days, with 6,388 km of competitive driving from Paris through France, Spain, Morocco, Mauritania, Mali and Senegal. The worst parts were the massive marathon sections running for three days at a time over the worst of the terrain, where the cars, motorbikes and trucks were denied outside assistance from their airborne teams of mechanics.

From the start, as the rally tiptoed through the relatively short spectator specials in Europe, the indications where that the mighty Mitsubishis would dominate the event. Sure enough, French crew Bruno Saby and Dominique Serieys soon started to realise the potential demonstrated on the European stages by stretching out a lead in their Team PIAA Mitsubishi Ralliart Pajero as the event wound its way over the twisting, rocky roads of Morocco. Despite punctures and pressures from his team mates Fontenay, and last year's winner Kenjiro Shinozuka in the Team Mitsubishi Oil Ralliart Pajero, Saby held onto his lead by the time the rally reached the Sahara Desert at the southern tip of Morocco, and crossed the border into Mauritania and the first, long, arduous marathon section.

Both Shinozuka and Saby suffered from minor problems with their gearboxes along the ancient trading route between Morocco and Timbuktu, on their way to the start of the first marathon at the iron-ore mining town of Zouerat in the heart of the Sahara. It was on this road that Fontenay stole his way into the lead which he was to hold to the finish. The marathon section from Zouerat in Mauritania to Gao in Mali soon took its toll. The expected challenge from the Protrucks, one driven by previous Dakar victor Pierre Lartigue, had already disappeared, and Jean-Louis Schlesser's buggy had also hit trouble before this point. Although German lady Jutta Kleinschimdt remained in contention in her buggy, the three leading Mitsubishi Pajeros had only the harsh desert conditions as their main competition.

By Gao, nearly half the field had disappeared in the endless Saharan sand dunes. Kleinschmidt had made her challenge only to be hit by gearbox problems. From Gao to Dakar, the competition was to be between the three Mitsubishi Pajeros, with Japanese/German pairing Hiroshi Masuoka and Andreas Schulz coming up hard in the Team Mitsubishi Oil Ralliart Challenger/Montero Sport.

Shinozuka, dropping to fourth after getting stuck in the soft sand during the first marathon section, but all eyes focused on Fontenay and Saby, just minutes apart at Gao and, ready to do battle all the way to Dakar over the toughest rally stages ever seen.

It was an epic battle. By the time they had reached the near-mythical town of Timbuktu in the heart of Mali, just 10 minutes separated the two Pajeros with Saby in hot pursuit of his team mate Fontenay. The rest of the field where over an hour and a half behind, with Shinozuka third, settling for his position and ready to pick up the pieces should either or both of the leading pair falter.

But then, during the second leg from Timbuktu back in the Mauritania to Nema, it started to go wrong for Saby when he caught a cable pulled across the road by a camel-herder. Worse was to come on the second of the marathon sections when Saby again hit trouble during his bid for victory with overheating problems. As the survivors reached Atar, Saby was already admitting defeat, but even his second place was not secure; bad luck struck again on the leg between Atar and Boutilimit, and the scene was set with Fontenay in the lead by a healthy margin, Shinozuka second, Saby third and Masuoka safe in fourth.

After a short, 18 km blast along the beach and the banks of Dakar's famous Pink Lake, Fontenay and his Mitsubishi team mates crossed the finish ramp to tumultuous applause from the thousands of spectators who turned out in the searing heat and sunshine to welcome the surviving 41 cars to the Senegalese capital.

It was a poignant moment for Fontenay, who earlier this year suffered the loss of his long-term navigator and motor sport partner, Bruno Musmarra. Tears streaming down his face, he dedicated his victory to the memory of his friend with whom he had enjoyed many successes over the years in cross country rallying, but never an elusive Dakar victory.

Said Fontenay at Dakar: "A little luck is all it takes to win the Dakar once you have the best car. I am excited now we've equalled Bruno Saby's win. I am happy he is happy I have won. He and I had a great battle, but he was unlucky - that's rallying!"

For his part, Shinozuka said: "I am very happy to have second place. I didn't expect second place. We were so far away from Saby, more than one and a half hours, and I thought third would be okay. It's was unfortunate for Saby but this is a good result for Mitsubishi. It has been quite a difficult Dakar. It was a long distance with lots of sand, some very slow stages and lots of rocks. It was interesting and enjoyable."

Disappointed to be third, but happy for his team and colleagues, Saby added: "For Jean-Pierre I wish him all the best. He has done so many Dakars and I always hoped he would win one day."

It has been one of the toughest Dakar's ever, as Masuoka explained: "This has been such a hard rally and it seems difficult to get a place better than fourth. It has been a rally where the driver and navigator have both played a big part."

Mitsubishi Team Manager Ullrich Brehmer stated: "This has been one of the hardest Dakars I can remember. It has been a hard fight, but our serious preparations paid off. We won because we never got lost and because the team functioned as one. I am very happy for Jean-Pierre personally. He has worked hard for Mitsubishi for many years. This year he drove very well, took his chance, and deserves to win."

Further down the field, Mitsubishi had even more to celebrate with Pajeros and Monteros filling the top four positions in perhaps the toughest class of all, T1 Marathon, production cars are driven hard through the desert with strict rules banning the replacement of major parts. It's a class where the basic reliability of the standard vehicle counts for everything.

Dutch driver Bob Ten Harkel took the T1 crown on this occasion in his Pajero, ahead of German Sven Quant in a Pajero, and Spaniard Vila Altimir who was third in his Montero. French man Jean-Pierre Strugo, who led the class for much of the event before bad luck dropped him to fourth in the class in his Pajero explained how tough it was when he said: "It was a very hard Dakar...in fact, in my experience the hardest and this is my 13th Dakar. I wouldn't have done it in any other car, though!"

Driving with Team Mitsubishi International, Carlos Souza, from Portugal, agreed after finishing 17th in his T3 Strada, stating: "I learned this year how hard this rally can be. at times I thought we would not finish. I have never been so tired. But even with just two-wheel drive the Mitsubishi still got us through. Incredible!"

Spaniard Miguel Prieto was delighted to reach his goal of finishing the Dakar in the top 10 in his Team Mitsubishi International Montero, running in T2. He said: "To finish in the top 10 is good. We have rolled and had a few problems, but still we were fast. As much as being ninth, it is important to be the first Spanish."

The 20th Paris-Dakar has doubtless proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that Mitsubishi can now claim to be the most successful car manufacturer in off-road motor sport. This year's repeat of the 1997 result has demonstrated that Mitsubishi is virtually unchallenged as the legendary king of the desert!



GENERAL CLASSIFICATION at DAKAR - Sunday, January 18, 1998

1.J.P.FONTENAY / G. PICARD MITSUBISHI Pajero 65:25:58 T2
2.K.SHINOZUKA / H. MAGNE MITSUBISHI Pajero +01:45:44 T2
3.B. SABY / D. SERIEYS MITSUBISHI Pajero +01:59:01 T2
4.H.MASUOKA / A. SCHULZ MITSUBISHI Challenger +05:55:27 T2
5.J.L. SCHLESSER / A.C. PAUWELS BUGGY Original +08:10:39 T3
6.P.ALLIOT / J. DUBOIS NISSAN +11:39:43 T3
7.D.HOUSIEAUX / M. DOMINELLA NISSAN +13:20:24 T3
8.T.DE LAVERGNE / L. ARGUELLES NISSAN +13:52:15 T3
9.M.PRIETO / F. GIL MITSUBISHI Montero +17:42:50 T2
10.B.TEN HARKEL / H. DEN TOOM MITSUBISHI Pajero +23:28:05 T1
11.S.QUANDT / P. TIEFFENBACH MITSUBISHI Pajero +23:55:26 T1
12.R.VILA ALTIMIR/E. GONZALES CARPI MITSUBISHI Montero +23:56:12 T1
13.J.P.STRUGO / B. CATARELLI MITSUBISHI Pajero +24:32:28 T1
14.B. ANQUETIL / J. MORIZE NISSAN +27:22:17 T3
15.G. SARRAZIN / T. FUJISAWA TOYOTA +27:26:25 T1
16.K.KOLBERG / P. LARROQUE MITSUBISHI Pajero +27:29:28 T1
17.C.SOUZA / P. REY MITSUBISHI Strada +29:08:27 T3
18.T.ASAGA / H. ITO TOYOTA +29:28:50 T1
19.S. SERVIA / W. ALCARAZ NISSAN +30:13:31 T2


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Copyright 1997 by Mitsubishi Motors Corporation.