Hiroshi Masuoka wins the Dakar, overcoming the humiliating setback on the previous event
The FIA released revised technical regulations and the organizers of the Dakar Rally issued their own in anticipation of the new rules. As a result, the production-based modified car class (T2) merged with the prototype car class (T3) as a newly established class called "Super Production Cars". The unmodified production vehicle class (T1) shifted to "production class" with no substantial changes. In the Super Production Class, the body of the car did not require FIA homologation and tubular frame structures were also allowed. There were no restrictions, such as the use of a monocoque structure from mass-produced vehicles or conditions regarding appearance.
Under these new rules, MITSUBISHI MOTORS participated in the 2002 event with a super production specifications car based on the T2 specification one, whose basic performance and reliability had been confirmed. Improvements that could not be made previously to the T2 specification vehicles were carried out, such as reducing the weight and lowering the center of gravity. The engine was set to a higher compression ratio, and the camshaft changed to improve low and medium speed performance. The maximum output was 260PS and the maximum torque was 36 kg-m. As for the drive system, the gear ratio changed, the drive shaft was strengthened and the suspension was improved to enhance road handling. The MITSUBISHI MOTORS team entrusted the Super Production Specification PAJERO/MONTEROs to Shinozuka, Masuoka, Kleinschmidt and Fontenay, while Sousa was entered in a Super Production Specification L200.
The 24th Dakar began in Arras, a city north of Paris, and moved to Morocco via Madrid, Spain. The race reached its climax in Mauritania, which included two stages in form of a loop, before heading to Dakar, Senegal. The overall distance totaled 9,427 km, of which the competitive stages (SS) amounted to 6,952 km.
Still recovering from the previous year's disappointment, Masuoka rose to the top spot after setting the fastest SS time on the first day of the rally in Africa, ahead of Shinozuka. At that moment, an engine fire broke out on Schlesser's Buggy, MITSUBISHI MOTORS’ main rival, burning the car out and forcing the French driver into retirement. After fighting for the lead throughout the early phases, Grégoire de Mevius dropped back due to engine problems on his Nissan Pickup. This allowed the MITSUBISHI MOTORS team to occupy the top four places in the rankings.
The fierce battle between Masuoka and Shinozuka began to heat up in the second half. However, Shinozuka’s visibility was hampered by thick dust causing him to hit a patch of camel grass, damaging his front end. The next day he got stuck and slipped back to third. With this happening, Masuoka put his best efforts on reaching the finish to take his first victory, with second-placed Kleinschmidt not far behind. Masuoka became the second Japanese to win the Dakar Rally, the first being Shinozuka back in 1997. MITSUBISHI MOTORS claimed the top eight positions, with Masuoka, Kleinschmidt, Shinozuka, Fontenay and Sousa dominating the top five places. Saeed Al-Hajri of Qatar brought his L200 home in sixth overall, Alphand earning a seventh overall position and winning the Super Production Diesel category, and Kolberg taking eighth. With Frenchman Nicolas Misslin finishing in tenth place, the MITSUBISHI MOTORS team achieved an overwhelming result by clinching nine out of the top ten positions.