Masuoka holds firm as Mitsubishi dominate

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Japan's Hiroshi Masuoka claimed his first Dakar Rally title yesterday after coming through the final loop stage unscathed in the Senegalese capital.

Masuoka and co-pilot Pascal Maimon finished the stage in 13th, one place behind main rival and last year's winner, Jutta Kleinschmidt, in spite of them both clocking the same time of 23min 22sec, which ensured a 22min 1sec margin over the German.

Kenjiro Shinozuka, also of Japan, finished third. All three were in Mitsubishis.

In the motorcycles, Italian Fabrizio Meoni retained his title after dominating most of the 5,580-mile race from Arras in northern France to Dakar.

Meoni finished a huge 47min 52sec ahead over South African Alfie Cox. Richard Sainct, of France, was third, more than 80 minutes behind the winner.

Masuoka was understandably delighted at his first win in the event. "I was very hungry and worked very hard. I am on top of the world," he said.

Co-driver Maimon was almost overcome with emotion, saying: "It is the most beautiful day in my life after the birth of my child three months ago."

Last year's winner, Kleinschmidt, had to overcome technical throughout the 17-day race and was gracious in defeat.

"We had problems with the transmission and I am happy with second place under the circumstances," she said. "For sure, we will come back next year and try and take a second win in the Dakar."