On the penultimate day of what has been an enormously difficult Dakar Rally, the last remaining Mitsubishi Racing Lancer showed its true performance potential, giving both the Japanese manufacturer and its driver, Joan 'Nani' Roma, their first stage victories on the 2009 event.
Indeed, Team Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart's Roma and co-driver Lucas Cruz Senra won by a convincing margin, putting seven minutes and 18 seconds between their Lancer and the nearest competitor to confirm the new turbo diesel-engined Racing Lancer's maiden stage victory in 2009, on the shortened 13th special stage between La Rioja and Cordoba.
The Spanish pairing began the special from a lowly 21st position, but surged through the field to record a first stage win for Mitsubishi on this year's Dakar Rally and confirm sixth position in the overall rankings.
The success was also Roma's breakthrough stage win with the Mitsubishi team and his first on four wheels, and it came on an emotional day for the 36-year-old, when a special Henri Magne trophy was presented to a deserving co-driver in the bivouac in Cordoba. Magne was a former co-driver for Roma, who tragically lost his life on the 2006 Rally of Morocco.
“[Thursday] was a really bad day and we were close to being out of the race,” 'Nani' remarked afterwards, “but to win the stage was a pleasure for me. Everybody in the team has worked for this.
“Sometimes it is not possible to win the rally, but this is a reward for the hard work from all the team. It is also the first Dakar stage win for the [new] Lancer and the first Dakar stage win for me with a car.
“It was a really important day for me as well. In the evening, in the bivouac at the briefing, there was a presentation of a special Henri Magne award. For me to win the stage, on the same day as the presentation, was a special moment for me and everyone in the team.”
“I am happy for all the team,” added Senra. “We needed this stage win as we continue to develop the new car and the new engine. We had our problem last night, but the mechanics worked so hard and this win is for them.”
Those sentiments were echoed by team director Dominique Serieys, who also made a point of congratulating other, privately-operated Mitsubishi crews on the event, most notably the Czech duo of Miroslay Zapletal and Tomas Ourednicek, who have performed consistently in their Mitsubishi L 200 pick-up based racer and are now listed in seventh place overall.
“I am obviously very happy, especially for 'Nani' and Lucas because they have done a great job to bring the car this far,” enthused Serieys, “and also for all the mechanics, engineers and race truck drivers for their strong work, often late into the night, on this rally.
“This result is also for Hiroshi and Pascal, who had to stop early in the race when they were leading the team. It is also for Luc and Gilles and Stéphane and Jean-Paul. We have seen again that the Dakar is very tough to win. We will work as hard as possible and invest everything to be ready for 2010 and make sure that we can win back the title.”