01 AUGUST 2007
  The four drivers of Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart and their respective co-drivers have just completed a four-day hike along the challenging ’Tour de Mont Blanc’ walk which took them on a 160km loop starting from and finishing in the French ski resort of Chamonix. Their route which was a far cry from the sort of landscape they are accustomed to in the world of Cross Country Rallies took them across mountains passes at altitudes of up to 2,800 metres in France, Italy and Switzerland, while the cumulative altitude difference was 2,000 metres.

Accompanied by Alpine guide Vincent Ravanel and physical trainer Patrick Chamagne, Luc Alphand/Gilles Picard (France), Hiroshi Masuoka (Japan)/Pascal Maimon (France), Stéphane Peterhansel/Jean-Paul Cottret (France) and Joan ’Nani’ Roma/Lucas Cruz (Spain) covered a daily average of 40km, including a final night-time leg in appalling weather that tested their resolve and team spirit to the limit.

"This walk normally takes six or seven days," points out team director Dominique Serieys. "The idea was to push them, physically and mentally, in an extreme environment and boost their cohesion as a group in difficult circumstances. Such programmes have been part of the team’s way of life for six years now and we tend to bring everyone together three or four times a season, although this was probably the toughest exercise they have been exposed to so far. These guys are all top sportsmen, used to gym work, cycling, etc., but this put them in a different context. Despite the blisters, aching muscles and fatigue, it was interesting to see how they pooled together to make sure everyone came through the toughest parts, including the sting in the tail: an 11-hour trek at night through hostile territory, in rain.

"The Mitsubishi Cross-Country Rally cars are competitive and, although important, this sort of bond will not win you a rally if everything goes to plan," concludes Serieys, a former Dakar winner himself alongside Bruno Saby (1993, Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero). "However, it can and does make a real difference if a situation goes against you. All these exercises and all we have lived through as a team over the years makes us unbeatable on that front, I believe."

Patrick Chamagne, who has worked with leading sportsmen from fields as different as world class tennis and Formula 1, says that every one of the team-members ended the hike a stronger person. "At this sort of altitude, and in this sort of terrain, walking 40km a day for four days is sure to push anyone to their limit," he observes. "As a former skiing World Champion, Luc Alphand was obviously in his element, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t able to benefit from these four days spent together on other fronts. In contrast, this was the first time Hiroshi Masuoka has done anything as taxing as this and I have to say I was impressed by his gritty determination. Dominique Serieys’ objective when it comes to this sort of operation is to develop stamina and consolidate team spirit. Well, I can report that everybody progressed both physically and mentally. The commitment to pull through the different difficulties together was there and the atmosphere that reigned throughout was a sheer delight."

With barely five months remaining before the 2008 Dakar, other team reunions are planned before the end of the year, although not quite as extreme as this week’s expedition! Meanwhile, following the team’s one-two finish on July’s Baja Espana with Peterhansel and Roma, Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart’s competition calendar resumes when Luc Alphand/Gilles Picard travel to Argentina for the Por la Pampas Rally (August 27-September 5), round three of the 2007 FIA Cross-Country World Cup.


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