Luc Alphand led the way for Team Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart as he attempted make up for lost time on the fourth leg of the 2009 Dakar Rally between Ingeniero Jacobacci and Neuquén in western Patagonia.
The team's three turbo-diesel Racing Lancers claimed third, fifth and eighth positions on the shortened 389km stage, with Alphand clawing his way through the field, having started in 15th position. Mitsubishis held fourth, eighth and tenth positions through the amended PC1, with Frenchman Alphand leading the way, a mere 26secs behind Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah, although he eventually had to give best to a charging Carlos Sainz, who again claimed the day's spoils for VW.
"I was worried this morning, because I lost so much time yesterday and I knew that I had to try and make up some of that time today," admitted the former downhill ski champion, who had lost around 30 minutes with a fuel leak before the first passage control on Monday and slipped to tenth overall.
"The wind was okay and was blowing at an angle where the dust was not a problem, but I can say a big thank-you to all the other drivers too. They all moved out of the way with no problems."
Alphand also refused to be too downhearted about his position, aware that there is still a long way to go in the event.
"I was thinking about my position last night," he confessed, "On the Dakar Rally in the past, being 30 minutes behind so early on is nothing, but I was wondering whether this could be different. Maybe it will be this close in the top ten all the way. We have some dunes tomorrow and I am quite happy for that, so we will see..."
"I am happy for Luc because, for the first three days, he was not able to be on the pace he was today," MMSP team director Dominique Serieys noted, "The front two are pushing like hell, so let's see what happens over the next two or three days."
Team-mate Stephane Peterhansel began the day fourth overall and fifth on the road, but finished the stage in eighth place, 1min 16secs behind the fifth-placed Mitsubishi of Joan 'Nani' Roma. Like Sainz, both Peterhansel and Roma suffered tyre problems on the stage.
"It was not easy in the dust with the bikes, but this is not like Africa as there has been no piste so far, just flat tracks," Roma commented, "It is a bit like WRC so far, but it was okay until I got one puncture on the back right side about 20km from the end of the stage and lost about three minutes. At least I have stayed in contact, but the next three days will be difficult. It is important to stay quiet and not make a big mistake."
Mitsubishi privateers Guilherme Spinelli and Mana Pornsiricherd both completed the stage, with the Brazilian claiming a strong 15th position. He had been lying in a similar position through the first passage control and carefully avoided trouble in the treacherous wadis and tricky water crossings to hold an excellent eleventh overall, over a minute in front of the official BMW X-raid entry of Peter van Merksteijn.
Mitsubishi Thailand-backed Pornsiricherd, however, had anything but an easy day, having losing time with a broken rear axle on Monday. Forced to drive no faster than 90km/h on stage four, he eventually recorded the 107th fastest time, dropping to 99th in the overall rankings.