Today's Stage Three of the Central Europe Rally proved to be more similar to Stage Two than driver Michael Petersen (Las Vegas, Nev., USA) had hoped. Not only was the course the same as yesterday's Special, only reversed, but the result was equally frustrating. The No. 217 Petersen Motorsports/MMPIE/PAWS/Petersen Holdings/BF Goodrich Chevrolet, making its first competitive appearance this week, finished 70th in the "Car" class today. Overall, Petersen and co-driver Matthew Stevenson (Ipswich, England) sit 68th with four stages remaining in the Amaury Sport Organisation (A.S.O.) sanctioned rally-raid across Romania and Hungary.
The Wide Open Dakar-entered T1.3 class buggy has covered the first three stages in eight hours, four minutes and 58 seconds.
Tuesday's third stage did two loops of the same course, as they did in Stage Two. In both stages, Petersen again suffered from the weather in the Hungary's mountains. Even more frustrating than the weather were the ongoing teething problems of the new buggy. As in Stage Two, the windshield wipers and defogger failed to operate correctly leaving Petersen blind. Using slower cars to lead the way through the rain, mist and snow, the longtime sports car racing team owner lost valuable time.
Fortunately, unlike yesterday where similar conditions led to the buggy falling into a ravine and becoming lodged for nearly 15 minutes, the No. 217 stayed on course. An 18.64 mile/30 km first connection brought the one- time Dakar starter to the first Special, a 47.2 mile/76 km trek through the mountains. A second connection, 43.5 mile/70 km brought them around to the 47 mile/76 km loop again before a 141 mile/227 km final connection took them the full 271.5 mile/437 km back into Debrecen.
Petersen's time for today's two Specials left him two hours, 32 minutes and 42 seconds behind the leading factory entry for the day.
Petersen Motorsports Into the Water at the CER Overall, the struggles in the last two stages have dropped the Las Vegas, Nevada-resident from 14th after Day One, to 68th, four hours, 35 minutes and 11 seconds behind the leader, Stephane Peterhansel in the Mitsubishi factory entry, and just over 30 minutes behind position 67. Included in the tally is a one hour penalty.
Tomorrow's Stage Four provides a much better outlook for the American team. The longest of the rally- raid, Wednesday's stage will again have two Specials. The course is a repeat of Stage One but is reversed to negate any benefit from course notes made in that first stage. The terrain better matches the buggy's setup and, as they leave the mountains, the weather on the all Hungarian stage from Debrecen to Veszprem is expected to improve.
The American-Anglo driving pair will face 360.3 miles/580 km in total on April 23. They will have to travel 132.3 miles/213 km to reach the first timed portion of the race. The first Special will start in Dabas and cover just 38.5 miles/62 km of the same terrain, sand and "woops", that Petersen excelled during Stage One - when he finished 14th in the Car division. The second Connection stage will be on paved roads for 128 miles/206 km.
The second timed leg for Wednesday will be a challenge as the terrain across the 54.6 mile/88 km Special changes constantly. The Hungarian plains on this Special will go from the fast, smooth flats to muddy and bumpy land. In total, 65.2 miles/105 km will be covered by the two Specials. Petersen will close with a 68.3 mile/110 km drive into the military base at Veszprem to prepare for Thursday's Stage Five.
The Dakar Rally Series is making its premiere with the Central Europe Rally, a precursor to the 2009 Dakar Rally. While the Dakar Rally has traditionally been held in Africa, due to political and safety concerns, the 2009 edition will travel through Argentina and Chile, January 3-19, 2009. Petersen Motorsports will enter the 2009 running with the same buggy and team that the American operation is competing with in the Central Europe Rally. As a rookie in the 2007 Dakar, Petersen earned an impressive finish of 23rd overall, fifth in the two-wheel drive class. He drove to a high stage finish of eighth- place in the final leg of the rally.
Michael Petersen, Driver: "It was super wet again. Rain, snow, mud. Quite hellish actually. We have some pretty extensive teething problems. The windshield fogged-up and we couldn't keep it clear because the wiper broke too. I couldn't see anything so I had to follow the slowest cars around. That hurt us. Tomorrow is back to the first stage except we'll run it backwards. We did pretty well there so I am looking forward to that. We'll have to pass a lot of cars to make a difference but we are going to push on. This shows that testing isn't enough. You have to put the buggy through everything in real world conditions. This will help us be better prepared for the new Dakar rally in South America in January. That is our objective for this rally. We want to do well but if we suffer now to have a better chance then, that is a price we'll be happy to pay."