SUNDAY, JANUARY 14, 1996
The surviving 71 cars and trucks and 50 motorbikes out of a total of 295 starters were treated to a rapturous welcome as they took a final bow with a race along Pink Lake Beach after a total of 7,579 km completed in 15 days through rocky mountain tracks, open desert plains, mountainous sand dunes and forests. As well as surviving the punishing terrain, temperatures ranged from a cool 10 degrees Celsius in Spain to over 40 degrees in the heart of the Sahara in strong sunshine.
It was in this heat, from the half-way point at Zouerat when the rally re-started on Monday, January 8, after a rest day, that much of the rally battle was fought. From Zouerat to El Mreiti an enormous marathon stage started with the first of two of the longest stages of the event, continuing on to the desert oasis of Tichit the following day with the longest leg of all at 632 km.
Waking to an early morning sand storm at Tichit, the rally pressed on to Kiffa, ending a week of hell in the desert as the survivors experienced the Sahel for the first. From Kiffa, the rally said goodbye to Mauritania and plunged into the lush greenery of tropical West Africa, first visiting Kayes in Mali, before moving on the following day to Labe in Guinea. Then the rally was on the home straight, albeit on twisty tracks from Labe to Tambacounda in Senegal, and the end of the long stages. A long liaison section and a final, short, 20 km blast around Pink Lake near Dakar concluded one of the toughest ever "Dakars".
Despite hard driving over 6,280 km of competitive sections covering the punishing rocky tracks of Morocco, the gruelling desert dunes of Mauritania, the Sahel in Mali and the forests of Guinea and Senegal, Team Mitsubishi Ralliart was able to celebrate the astounding achievement of bringing home all the Mitsubishi prototype cars to Dakar safely.
Furthermore, Mitsubishi Pajeros totally dominated the most demanding category of all, T1 - the class for near-standard vehicles - by taking the top three places, proving the reliability and performance of the Pajero over the toughest terrain imaginable. French pair Jean-Pierre Strugo and Bruno Catarelli won the T1 category, driving a short-wheel base Pajero, from Spaniards Miguel Prieto and Javier Olave in a similar Mitsubishi. Portuguese crew Carlos Souza and Pascal Laroque were third, also in a Pajero.
All three Pajeros also filled the top places in the Marathon class, the ultimate test of reliability in which the regulations prohibit the replacement of nearly all the major parts of the car during the event.
A DELIGHTED STRUGO EXCLAIMED: "I DEDICATE MY VICTORY TODAY TO MY CHILDREN - MY TWO BOYS! I HAVE PARTICIPATED IN 11 'DAKARS' BUT THIS IS MY FIRST WIN IN T1. I AM AMAZED AT THE PERFORMANCE OF THE MITSUBISHI PAJERO - A STANDARD VEHICLE THAT WAS SO TOUGH WITH SUCH GREAT PERFORMANCE AND THE SUPPORT FROM THE MITSUBISHI SONAUTO ASSISTANCE TEAM WAS TREMENDOUS. AFTER THIS RESULT, I WOULD LIKE TO CONTEST THE WHOLE CROSS COUNTRY WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP BECAUSE THIS 'DAKAR' HAS SHOWN ME THAT IT IS POSSIBLE TO WIN IN THE PAJERO."
SECOND PLACED PRIETO BASKED IN THE APPLAUSE OF THE CROWDS IN THE HOT SUNSHINE AND SAID: "I HAVE CELEBRATED MY 10TH 'DAKAR' AND WITHOUT DOUBT THIS WAS THE TOUGHEST. I AM SLIGHTLY DISAPPOINTED NOT TO WIN, BUT AFTER SUCH A HARD RALLY I AM AMAZED AT THIS PAJERO - APART FROM PUNCTURES NOTHING EVER WENT WRONG!"
PORTUGUESE OFF ROAD CHAMPION SOUZA WAS DELIGHTED TO HAVE FINISHED HIS FIRST EVER 'DAKAR' AND REVEALED; "BEFORE I STARTED, I THOUGHT IT WAS GOING TO BE RELATIVELY EASY. HOW WRONG I WAS! BUT MY CO-DRIVER WAS SUPERB AND THE PAJERO SO RELIABLE, THEY CARRIED ME THROUGH ALL THE HARDEST PARTS WITH EASE!"
MITSUBISHI ALSO ENJOYED SUCCESS IN THE T2 CATEGORY, THE CLASS FOR MODIFIED PRODUCTION CARS. FORMER FORMULA ONE DRIVER PATRICK TAMBAY AND EX-MULTIPLE "DAKAR" WINNER RENE METGE DROVE A MITSUBISHI PAJERO TO SECOND PLACE BEHIND DELAVERGNE'S NISSAN.
SAID TAMBAY: "I REALLY ENJOYED THIS ADVENTURE AND I AM HAPPY TO SEE PINK LAKE! I AM THOROUGHLY IMPRESSED WITH THE PAJERO AND THE MITSUBISHI SONAUTO ASSISTANCE WHICH WAS EXTRAORDINARY!"
CO-DRIVER METGE, WHO ALSO SHARED SOME OF THE DRIVING, ADDED: "THIS IS THE FIRST TIME I HAVE CO-DRIVEN AND IT WAS VERY EDUCATIONAL! THE CAR WAS SOLID AND RELIABLE, AND WE NEVER HAD TO WORRY ABOUT MECHANICAL PROBLEMS WHICH MADE IT ALL THE MORE ENJOYABLE."
KARL ILLE, THE MAN IN CHARGE OF MANAGING THE MITSUBISHI SONAUTO CUSTOMER ASSISTANCE SERVICE COMMENTED: "The T1 Mitsubishi Pajeros that dominated this event are built to exactly the same specification as those anyone can drive away from a Mitsubishi dealership.
"The Mitsubishi Pajero has proved to be the most popular choice of four-wheel drive vehicles with the European drivers - all who entered this rally knew it was the best. When you look at the entry list before the start of this year's 'Dakar', you can see that the majority in T1 chose the Pajero.
"For all the privateers who entered, we provided a full assistance package with good trucks and excellent mechanics to make it easy for them, and so they could concentrate on driving.
"In the T2 category for modified production cars, I think we gathered some excellent experiences on this year's event for the new 3.5 litre engine. The car's have proved perfectly reliable and competitive, and it was only misfortune that prevented us from winning."
Out of the 29 Mitsubshis that started the event, a total of 12 made it to Dakar, a higher than average success rate in thi epic African adventure.
IN THE T3 CATEGORY FOR PROTOTYPE VEHICLES, FRENCH PAIR JEAN-PIERRE FONTENAY AND BRUNO MUSMARRA TOOK A MEMORABLE THIRD OVERALL IN THE TEAM OFF ROAD EXPRESS MITSUBISHI RALLIART PAJERO PROTOTYPE AFTER AN EVENTFUL RALLY IN WHICH A LACK OF GOOD LUCK PLAYED AGAINST THEM.
FROM THE START, THE MITSUBISHI PAIR ATTACKED THE RALLY WITH VIGOUR, AND AFTER OVERCOMING AN INITIAL BOUT OF FREQUENT PUNCTURES IN MOROCCO, STARTED TO MOVE TO THE FRONT OF THE FIELD IN THE SAHARA IN MAURITANIA. FONTENAY LOOKED CERTAIN TO TAKE THE LEAD WHEN HE WAS DELAYED FOR TWO HOURS WITH AN UNFORTUNATE SUSPENSION PROBLEM ON LEG 7, FROM ZOUERAT TO ATAR, WHILE LYING IN SECOND PLACE; WITHOUT THIS DELAY, HE WOULD HAVE SURELY WON. FONTENAY SCORED TWO STAGE VICTORIES, THE FIRST ON THE SIXTH LEG, FROM SMARA TO ZOUERAT, AND THE SECOND ON LEG 11, FROM THE SAND STORMS IN TICHIT TO THE SAHEL OF KIFFA, AS HE BRAVELY FOUGHT HIS WAY BACK INTO CONTENTION.
EXPLAINED FONTENAY: "I AM VERY PLEASED TO BE HERE IN DAKAR AND DELIGHTED TO BE ON THE PODIUM. YES, I AM DISAPPOINTED NOT TO HAVE WON BUT FOR ONE MOMENT OF BAD LUCK. BUT THE WHOLE MITSUBISHI TEAM WORKED SO WELL TOGETHER, THE CAR PROVED COMPETITIVE AGAINST THE CITROENS OVER ALL TYPES OF TERRAIN, AND WE HAVE PROVED THAT THE PAJERO IS THE BEST CAR, DESPITE THE RESULT. I HAVE ENJOYED DRIVING ON THIS EVENT AND IT WAS A HARD-FOUGHT RACE AT THE TOP."
JAPANESE DRIVER HIROSHI MASUOKA AND GERMAN NAVIGATOR ANDREAS SCHULZ CREWED THE SECOND MITSUBISHI T3 HOME TO SCORE SIXTH PLACE IN THE TEAM CAR PLAZA MITSUBISHI OIL RALLIART RVR SPACE RUNNER PROTOTYPE, ACHIEVING THEIR MAIN AIM OF REACHING DAKAR INTACT.
MASUOKA ENJOYED A SUPERB RALLY, PROVING THE THE SPACE RUNNER IS AN EXCEPTIONALLY COMPETITIVE MACHINE IN THE "DAKAR". DESPITE HIS INEXPERIENCE IN THIS CAR, MASUOKA CAREFULLY PLAYED HIMSELF IN BEFORE SCORING FASTEST TIME ON LEG 8 FROM ATAR TO ZOUERAT IN THE TOUGHEST DESERT CONDITIONS, TAKING HIM UP TO THIRD OVERALL. HOWEVER, ON THE 12TH LEG TO KAYES IN MALI HE WAS FORCED TO SWERVE TO AVOID AN ON-COMING LOCAL TRUCK, AND DAMAGED HIS SUSPENSION. THEN, ON THE FINAL LONG SECTION FROM LABE, GUINEA, TO TAMBACOUNDA, SENEGAL, THE JAPANESE DRIVER HIT A TREE STUMP AT THE EDGE OF THE ROAD AFTER BEING BLINDED BY THE DUST OF A PREVIOUS CAR AND HAD TO WAIT TO BE RESCUED BY THE FOLLOWING ASSISTANCE TRUCKS.
MASUOKA REVEALED: "I WAS UNLUCKY WITH THOSE TWO INCIDENTS, BUT ON THIS EVENT I WAS LEARNING SO MUCH, AND IF I CONTINUE WITH THIS CAR NEXT YEAR, I WOULD BE VERY CONFIDENT OF SUCCESS. IT IS AN EXCELLENT CAR, AND BY DRIVING CAREFULLY, I HAVE ACHIEVED MY OBJECTIVE OF REACHING DAKAR."
WINNERS OF THE FIRST LEG IN RAIN-SOAKED SPAIN, FROM GRANADA TO MALAGA, FRENCH CREW BRUNO SABY AND DOMINIQUE SERIEYS EVENTUALLY FINISHED IN SEVENTH PLACE OVERALL IN THE TEAM PIAA MITSUBISHI RALLIART PAJERO PROTOTYPE, AFTER A RALLY FRAUGHT WITH BAD LUCK.
LIKE FONTENAY, SABY WAS DELAYED WITH PUNCTURES ON THE OPENING LEGS IN MOROCCO, BUT AS HE FOUGHT BACK, HE SUFFERED THE FIRST OF TWO UNFORTUNATE ROLLS ON THE FIFTH LEG FROM FOUM EL HASSAN TO SMARA. AFTER THAT, THE FRENCHMAN ACTED AS FAST ASSISTANCE TO SUPPORT MASUOKA AND FONTENAY.
SABY REPORTED: "MY PAJERO WAS SUPERBLY EFFICIENT IN ALL THE DIFFERENT CIRCUMSTANCES WE FOUND OURSELVES IN. I WAS PARTICULARLY IMPRESSED BY THE PERFORMANCE OF THE ENGINE WHICH IS EXCEPTIONAL - NEVER A PROBLEM. THIS MITSUBISHI TEAM IS OF THE HIGHEST CALIBRE AND I WAS HAPPY TO PLAY A SUPPORTING ROLE. I ENJOYED DRIVING THE PAJERO, AND I HOPE WE GET THE CHANCE TO DO MANY MORE EVENTS IN IT."
JAPANESE DRIVER KENJIRO SHINOZUKA, CO-DRIVEN BY FRENCHMAN HENRI MAGNE, LOOKED CERTAIN TO BE ONE OF THE LEADING CONTENDERS THIS YEAR AFTER WINNING THE PROLOGUE IN GRANADA, BUT FELL OUT OF CONTENTION AFTER HITTING A HIDDEN, DEEP GULLY ACROSS THE ROAD ON NEW YEAR'S DAY, ON THE THIRD LEG FROM OUJDA TO ER RACHIDIA. LIKE SABY, HE PLAYED A SUPPORTING ROLE FOR THE TEAM THEREAFTER, EVENTUALLY FINISHING 16TH IN THE TEAM MITSUBISHI OIL RALLIART PAJERO PROTOTYPE.
SHINOZUKA COMMENTED: "I THINK THE ROUTE THIS YEAR WAS VERY GOOD. IT HAD TWISTY SECTIONS, ROCKY ROADS, DUNES, FAST PARTS...ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING! IT WAS UNFORTUNATE THAT WE HAD SUCH BAD LUCK AND WE COULD NOT ATTACK FOR THE LEAD, BUT THAT'S RALLYING AND I LOOK FORWARD TO THE NEXT CHALLENGE!"
TEAM MITSUBISHI DIRECTOR ULLRICH BREHMER CONCLUDED: "This event has provided a shining example of how well this team works together. There has been a very good, friendly atmosphere between the drivers. For example, when Shinozuka and Saby had their delays, they quickly offered their support to act as assistance vehicles for Masuoka and Fontenay. When Jean-Pierre was delayed while in second place, Kenjiro stopped with him and offered parts from his own car so that he could continue! The camaraderie has been exemplary.
"The Mitsubishi prototypes have performed very well. Jean-Pierre Fontenay has easily been the most competitive on the event in his Pajero Prototype. The new engine has proved exceptional, despite the new regulations which demanded a smaller restrictor and subsequent power loss. We had superb tyres from Michelin which performed very well, the the drivers report that the Pajero has been handling superbly. Overall, the Pajero T3 is an excellent package."
Copyright 1996 by Mitsubishi Motors Corporation