Hiroshi Masuoka, first Japanese driver to claim two consecutive victories
MITSUBISHI MOTORS dominates with 1st to 4th positions
The MITSUBISHI MOTORS team developed the PAJERO/MONTERO EVOLUTION Super Production Specification (MPR10), a completely new machine that involved the technological knowledge accumulated in the Dakar Rally and was based on the design of the concept car exhibited at the 2001 Frankfurt Motor Show. The car body incorporated a highly rigid and lightweight tubular frame structure, and the aerodynamics was improved by raising the minimum ground clearance while lowering the car's overall height, making it lower than a conventional car, and by reducing the frontal projected area. The engine was also lowered and shifted back in order to lower the center of gravity and to optimize the front/rear weight balance. Combined with the four-wheel independent suspension, it allowed excellent maneuverability. The powerplant was a 3.5L 6G74 type MIVEC gasoline engine. The maximum output was improved to 270PS while its weight was reduced. In addition, for the first time, the 6-speed sequential type gearbox was adopted. MITSUBISHI MOTORS' motorsports activities were reorganized into a structure centered on the German Frankfurt-based MMSP, and the French SBM became the base for cross-country activities under the direct control of MMSP. That year, the MITSUBISHI MOTORS team fielded four drivers including Masuoka and Fontenay, as well as 6-time Dakar motorcycle winner Peterhansel and former World Rally Champion Miki Biasion of Italy, all of them at the wheel of the Super Production Class specification PAJERO/MONTERO.
The 2003 event started in Marseilles, in southern France, and featured a new course that went through Spain, Tunisia and Libya to finish in Sharm El Sheikh, an Egyptian city on the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula. Neither Paris nor Dakar was hosting the start for the first time in the event's 24-year history. The overall distance was 8,576 km, of which the competitive stages (SS) totaled 5,254 km. The rest day was in Siwa, an oasis in northwestern Egypt, with Libya becoming the main stage of the event over the first half or so of the event.
For the 25th event, a tense battle was expected with strong contenders such as Vatanen and Shinozuka in the Nissan Pickups plus Kleinschmidt in a Volkswagen Touareg. However, as soon as the rally kicked off, it was no longer about the threat from rivals but about the battle between MITSUBISHI MOTORS teammates Masuoka and Peterhansel. Although Masuoka briefly took the lead in the first half of the event, Peterhansel shot up thereafter, forcing Masuoka to give chase. Masuoka was momentarily more than 25 minutes adrift of the lead due to a series of punctures. However, the day before the finish, Peterhansel hit a rock and damaged the front suspension. This led to a dramatic outcome in which Masuoka took over the top spot in an unexpected turn of events for the Japanese driver who clinched his second consecutive victory. Following close behind were Fontenay, Peterhansel and Sousa’s L200, making it a 1-2-3-4 result for the Japanese automaker, which claimed his eighth and third consecutive victory in the event. In addition, José-Luis Monterde of Spain won the Amateur Trophy Award, finishing tenth in the overall standings and second in the Super Production Diesel class in his diesel-powered PAJERO/MONTERO. In the same way, Kolberg also did well, ranking third in the Amateur Trophy category and thirteenth overall. Andrea Mayer of Germany, a female driver who had switched from two to four wheels, also tackled the race, finishing fourth in class and 21st overall.