Masuoka roars through desert

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The Independent Online

Japan's Hiroshi Masuoka extended his lead in the 24th Dakar Rally after a storming performance through the African desert on Saturday.

The Mitsubishi driver covered the 383-kilometre special stage between Zouerat and Atar in Mauritania in three hours 53 minutes 39 seconds, just over five minutes clear of Jutta Kleinschimdt in second place.

The result saw him stretch his overall lead over his compatriot Kenjiro Shinozuka from 27sec overnight to 11min 46sec. Masuoka said: "I spoke to my mechanics and they said push today, so I pushed and we had a good stage. The sand was not too difficult, but the dunes were quite high and we damaged the bumper."

However, Masuoka also benefited from a problem with Shinozuka's car. Shinozuka said: "I had a puncture about 70 kilometres into the stage and we lost some time because the jacking point on the car is damaged. But I am happy with second place. We will look at the car and maybe change the suspension and the differential."

Belgium's Gregoire de Mevius was forced out of the rally after becoming bogged down in the sand dunes having suffering a terminal engine problem. He was lying in third place before Saturday's action.

His withdrawal means Kleinschmidt moved up to third overall with her second place. The German woman is now 26 minutes behind Masuoka. Jean-Pierre Fontenay, who was third in Saturday's special stage, has moved up to fourth overall.

In the bike category Chile's Carlo de Gavardo closed the overall gap to leader Fabrizio Meoni of Italy to just 1min 53sec after a sixth-place finish.

Kari Tianen won the stage, moving up to ninth overall after beating Jordi Arcarons, while Isidre Esteve Pujol came home third to cement his sixth place.

Eric Aubijoux, 20th overnight, was rushed to hospital in Zouerat after dislocating his shoulder during a fall, while Jean Brucy, 10th overall before Saturday, withdrew after suffering concussion.

In both categories the rally returns to the road today following yesterday's rest day.