There were mixed emotions in the Team Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart camp after leg two of the 2009 Dakar Rally as a short but fast special stage between Santa Rosa de la Pampa and the Patagonian coastal resort of Puerto Madryn pushed one of its drivers into contention and another into early retirement.

St?phane Peterhansel led the way for the seven-times winner of the event, the defending champion taking the first of three turbo-diesel Racing Lancers to a time of 1hr 57min 28secs for the 237km special, which was sufficient for him to clinch second fastest time behind stage winner Carlos Sainz and catapult himself up the leaderboard to third overall.

"It was a little better for me today," Peterhansel admitted, "I started sixth this morning, but I dropped a few seconds in the first part, and the second section was similar to yesterday. I was in Mark Miller's dust for 80km and it wasn't possible to pass him. At the end, though, he made a mistake and I was able to pass, but I was always driving in dust. It was a little bit more technical today, and there were some very fast corners.

"I think it is better to start second or third tomorrow. I saw yesterday how difficult it is to lead the way, but the organisers did leave a one-hour gap between the last motorcycle and the first car today and that was better."

While the day was positive for Peterhansel and team-mates Joan 'Nani' Roma - who set the fourth fastest time to hold fifth overall - and Luc Alphand, whose fifth quickest time was sufficient to retain sixth in the standings, it was disappointing for veteran Hiroshi Masuoka, who was forced to bow out after suffering problems on the previous day's opening leg.

MMSP's on-event legal representative Matthais Feltz was tasked to find out the potential impact on the team in terms of time penalties and restarting positions when Masuoka suffered serious delays between Buenos Aires and Santa Rosa de la Pampa, and for the crew if the technical problem could be rectified.

"Our team were unlucky to have a problem so early with Hiroshi's car," the former WRC co-driver commented, "My job was to find out how to bring him back into the competition when repairs were made. This was my job here yesterday after I had navigated one of the support vehicles out of Buenos Aires....

"I had to find out the maximum stage time, which is eight hours. Then, if he could not get out of the stage within those eight hours, there was a fixed penalty of an additional two hours and I was told by the ASO that there would be a further 15-minute penalties per passage control, whilst the car was being towed by the truck and then a further penalty in the final control.

"The regulations also have a special Article 12.4 that states for safety reasons it is possible to demand of a competitor - so long as it is brought in before 2200hrs in the evening - that he be brought in front of the other competing cars for safety reasons if he has been a frontrunner in the race and that he can be moved up the restarting list
the following day.

Engine pulley problems prompted further examination that revealed that the damage sustained was too much to repair in the time allowed, and Masuoka's car was eventually withdrawn.

"For sure, I am disappointed for Hiroshi that he cannot continue the race," team director Dominique Serieys commented, "It is going well for our team otherwise. We are not under any pressure to lead the race before legs five or six, and I do not want to see any objective to win any of the early stages.

"Tomorrow looks very tough but, from the information that the organisers have given to us, the real meat of the rally will start next week. I just want everyone in our team to be calm at this stage and not feel under any pressure."

Monday's section sees the teams leave Puerto Madryn and head in a westerly direction, crossing the barren Patagonian wastelands to the overnight halt at Jacobacci, close to a former start of the Por Las Pampas Rally at San Carlos de Bariloche. The day's timetable begins with a 70km liaison section before teams tackle a winding 616km special - the longest of the event so far - on classic flowing terrain, starting at Sierra Chuta and passing the Sierra Negra and Sierra Apas. The special then winds its way through the Pampa de Talagape towards a second passage control near El Cain, before an 8km liaison guides teams into the overnight halt some 872 metres above sea level.

"We are here, but it was a long way and tomorrow we will be much, much longer than today - more than double!" Alphand remarked, "We have had a small problem on both days so far - these are long days and it is very hot and tiring.

"We do not want to panic about our position at this stage, but we were stuck twice today, trying to pass Miller. The first time I tried to pass along the dunes and then I came back a second time but lost more than two minutes going back to take the road book again...."



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