Spanish-French pair lead Dakar rally

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src=' ' class='caption'> The Spanish-French partnership of Josep Maria Servia and Francois Borsotto takes early lead in the 2004 Paris to Dakar rally.

updated: February 25, 2007 10:04 IST
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Narbonne, France:

The Spanish-French partnership of Josep Maria Servia and Francois Borsotto have taken the early lead in the 2004 Paris to Dakar rally after winning the opening special stage in Narbonne, France on Friday. Servia and Borsotto drove their Schlesser-Ford buggy round the 25 kilometres course in exactly 25 minutes, three seconds ahead of the Mitsubishi of Stephane Peterhansel and Jean-Paul Cottret. Ninety-five of the four-wheeled competitors had to be given an overall time after one vehicle blocked the course for over an hour, forcing the cancellation of the entire stage for the truck crews. In the motorbike class, Frenchman David Fretigne clocked 22 minutes and 47 seconds on a Yamaha, 15 seconds ahead of last year's runner-up Cyril Despres and almost a minute in front of the rest of the field. Yesterday's snowstorm made visibility bad enough for the 400 competitors in the prologue to the 2004 Paris-Dakar Rally, but on Friday the snow melted and thick mud was the enemy for the first special stage, a 25 kilometres circuit around the southern French town of Narbonne. Several tight hairpins forced some of the four-wheeled entrants into using their reverse gear, but not Josep Maria Servia of Spain and his co-driver, Frenchman Francois Borsotto. Their Schlesser-Ford buggy made light of the conditions and with the aid of a few opponents, who sportingly got out of the way when Servia pulled up behind them, the pair completed the course in exactly 25 minutes. It was just enough to give them the lead over the French duo of Stephane Peterhansel and Jean-Paul Cottret, who finished three seconds in arrears. A six-times winner of the Dakar on motorcycles, Peterhansel is still looking for his first win in the car category. A further 23 seconds behind lies the BMW of Belgium's Gregoire De Mevius and Alain Guehennec of France. Last year's winner, Hiroshi Masuoka of Japan, is handily placed in sixth. The same however, cannot be said of Thierry Hupin. The 41-year-old Frenchman trailed home nearly half an hour off the pace set by his compatriot David Fretigne, riding a Yamaha. A time of 22 minutes and 47 seconds gave Fretigne a 15 second advantage over last year's runner-up, Cyril Despres. Forty-two seconds further back lies Spaniard Nani Roma and the 2003 champion Richard Sainct of France. Events took a turn for the worse just after the motorcyclists had finished for the day. The buggy of Claude Arnoux got stuck in the middle of the course and could not be removed - even the bulldozers became stranded - and the rest of the stage had to be abandoned with 95 cars still to finish. All of them were awarded a standard time by the judges, but the trucks never made it onto the track at all. Saturday's special stage takes place on the beaches of Castellon in Spain, where the organisers hope the conditions will be a little more like those to be expected in Africa. (AP)