Peterhansel, Roma triumph in Dakar Rally

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src=' ' class='caption'> France's Stephane Peterhansel claimed victory in the 2004 Dakar Rally on Sunday.

updated: February 25, 2007 10:05 IST
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Stephane Peterhansel began Sunday's 17th and final stage of the 2004 Dakar Rally with an almost unassailable lead. The Frenchman, a 16-time Dakar Rally veteran, held a massive 51-minute, 23-second advantage over defending champion Hiroshi Masuoka going into the final stage - a mere 106 kilometre 'sprint' down the Senegal's Atlantic coastline and into the capital Dakar. It was a lead he would not relinquish, despite Masuoka's best efforts to upstage his Mitsubishi teammate. Peterhansel, bidding to become only the second man after Hubert Auriol to claim victory in both the car and motorbike sections of Dakar, remained cool in the searing West African heat. Schlesser consolidates Meanwhile, Jean-Louis Schlesser consolidated his third place finish overall with sixth place on the day in his Ford. But Schlesser was well behind the stage winner. Colin McRae, the former world rally champion making his debut in the race, secured an impressive second stage win in his Nissan, but disasters in the middle stages of the rally meant he could finish no higher than 20th overall. It was undoubtedly Peterhansel's day, however. He and co-driver Jean-Paul Cottret made the 11,090 kilometre trek across the bogs, beaches and deserts of two continents and seven countries in 53 hours, 47 minutes and 24 seconds. They finished 49 minutes and 24 seconds ahead of Masuoka in second place, and three hours and 33 seconds ahead of Schlesser in third. The dangers of the 18-day event, arguably the most grueling in motorsport, were aptly displayed when David Fretigne crashed off his Yamaha motorcycle early on Sunday - he would recover to hold on to 7th place in the rally. Fretigne's compatriot Cyril Despres showed smoother handling of his KTM on the dunes. But, his stage victory was nowhere near good enough to overturn the 46-minute deficit he faced, and he had to settle for third place in the bikes. Two wheel battle The real battle on two wheels was between Richard Sainct and Nani 'Joan' Roma, with just a little over five minutes separating the pair going into the final day. Sainct, however, effectively handed victory to the Spaniard with a disastrous day as he limped home in 47th place. Roma's performance itself was not thrilling, but it was enough - 17th place in the stage was enough to confirm the KTM rider's rally victory - and spark the champagne and celebrations in Dakar. The 2004 rally had started on New Years day in snowy France with 607 entrants, the highest number since 1990. 18 days later, just 65 motorcycles, 60 cars and 38 trucks formed the battered pa ck that arrived in the Senegalese capital. (AP)