Team Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart's Stephane Peterhansel has retired from the 2009 Dakar Rally after he was sidelined by engine problems on the seventh stage, near Mendoza, in Argentina.
Peterhansel and Joan 'Nani' Roma had begun day seven on Friday behind a trio of Volkswagens and team director Dominique Serieys had issued a battle cry for his remaining two drivers to launch an assault and a serious challenge for the lead over the coming stages.
But Peterhansel's turbo-diesel 'Racing Lancer' sustained a small fire early in the stage. A terminal engine problem then occurred after 114 kilometres and the nine-times Dakar winner was sidelined before the passage through the Andes into Chile.
Roma meanwhile set the fourth fastest time and maintained fourth overall, but he trails overall leader Carlos Sainz by 29 minutes 16 seconds heading into the final week of the event, which reaches a climax in Buenos Aires on Sunday, January 18.
"It is not easy for us now," said Roma. "It is a different situation every day. Everybody is working for the win and pushing hard. The engineers and mechanics in Japan and France have worked really hard to know the new car. Today it is better.
"It was much better yesterday and I hope we can try to push through the second week. Okay, I don't have a car for support, but I will try my best to take the best result possible."
"Even when we entered scrutineering in Buenos Aires I was not sure what would happen. My feeling is clear. When we decided to enter the diesel category with the 'Racing Lancer', we knew that the project would be for the medium term - 2009-2011," added Serieys.
"When you see that Volkswagen and BMW have been at this project for six years to be where they are today, we can say that in the very short term period we have reached the performance, but there are still several areas where we need to work and improve.
"Since I took charge of the team in 2001, my focus has been to be competitive. 'Nani' is still in a good position and it is still possible for a competitor running alone to win the race. There is always only one winner. I hope he keeps a healthy car next week and we can take a podium finish or even a better place."