MITSUBISHI MOTORS dominates and seals the top four positions, a first in Dakar history
Kenjiro Shinozuka becomes the first Japanese to secure the overall win on Paris-Dakar
The four-wheel category of the Dakar Rally entered a new era. The event's regulations forbade manufacturers from entering T3 prototype class cars, and at the same time completely prohibited gasoline turbocharged engines. In other words, T3 vehicles from private teams and T2 cars from manufacturers both competed in the top category. To face this new challenge MITSUBISHI MOTORS introduced the newly developed T2 specification PAJERO/MONTERO. It was based on the second generation of the short wheelbase PAJERO/MONTERO. In addition to the fitting of a roll cage, the chassis and the frame were connected together to ensure higher body stiffness. The front suspension used the double-wishbone independent setup that was developed for the prototype. Since the rear suspension shape was not allowed to be modified, it used an improved rigid axle type, and the technological knowledge accumulated so far was put to good use in all areas within the regulations constraints. As drastic transformation was not permitted, the 6G74 type 3.5L V6 gasoline engine was the same as the one of the production car, with full torque capability providing better handling in the sand. The MITSUBISHI MOTORS team decided to field three T2 specification PAJERO/MONTEROs for Shinozuka, Saby and Fontenay, and the T2 specification MITSUBISHI CHALLENGER for Hiroshi Masuoka, taking on the event with four top contenders.
The 19th event started in Dakar in Senegal, which used to traditionally host the finish. This unconventional route took the competitors from Dakar to Agadez in Niger, and then back again to Dakar. During the previous year's event, Agadez was set aside and did not host the rest day. The total distance was 7,967 km over 15 days, including 6,331 km of competitive stages (SS). The eastbound route headed from Senegal toward Mali and Niger with a return route through Mali and Mauritania to Dakar. With the revision of the cars technical regulations, the Citroën works team did not enter the event. However, the 2WD buggy built by former World Sports Prototype Car Champion Jean-Louis Schlesser of France turned out to be the most fearsome rival. The minimum weight set by the regulations was meant to balance the performance of 2WD and 4WD cars, but at 1,200 kg, Schlesser’s 2WD buggy was 300 kg lighter than the PAJERO/MONTEROs. The top speed in the high-speed flat sections was overwhelming, and although there were also medium speed special stages, the Schlesser Buggy became MITSUBISHI MOTORS' biggest opponent in the T2 era.
On the first day, the PAJERO/MONTEROs monopolized the top 3 positions with Fontenay, Saby and Shinozuka. Hiroshi Masuoka started steadily in sixth place. On the second day, Schlesser took the lead, but on the next, Shinozuka posted the fastest SS time to take first position away from him. Shinozuka was fastest again on the sixth day's SS, while Schlesser failed to build on his momentum and retired. Shinozuka then claimed his third fastest time to maintain his lead at the hallway point in Agadez. At this stage, the MITSUBISHI MOTORS team was already occupying the four first places, but in the midst of that, Shinozuka stayed on top in the second half of the race, and on his 12th year of participation in the event, he achieved the first overall victory of a Japanese driver. Fontenay, Saby and Masuoka followed, MMC taking a domineering 1-2-3-4 result, the first ever achieved by a single manufacturer. Sousa also won the non-modified production car class, with Lhotellerie and Prieto following in second and third in the category, testimony to the outstanding strength of the MITSUBISHI PAJERO/MONTEROs.