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Thursday, 3 January, 2002, 18:06 GMT
Masuoka continues charge
Hiroshi Masuoka
Masuoka leads the overall standings in his Mitsubishi
Click here for Thursday's times
Click here for overall standings

Hiroshi Masuoka is set for victory in the seventh stage of the Dakar Rally after winning the first half of the gruelling "marathon" stage.

The stage is a 1,541km stretch through the northwestern Sahara Desert and is spread over two days.

Chilean rider Carlo De Gavardo was fastest in the bike category.

Masuoka, who currently heads the overall standings, clocked 3 hours, 13 minutes and 23 seconds over 351km.

The Japanese driver finished in front of Belgian Gregoire De Mevius and his compatriot Kenjiro Shinozuka.

Last year's winner Jutta Kleinschmidt of Germany was left struggling in fourth place, 21 minutes and 27 seconds off the pace in her Mitsubishi.

De Gavardo, riding a KTM bike, set a winning time of 3 hours, 33 minutes and 3 seconds, finishing ahead of Spaniards Isidre Esteve Pujol and Joan Roma, the leader of the overall standings.

You are either going to crash, going to break or going to set a good time. I did not want to break the bike so I eased off and it worked
South Africa's Alfie Cox
However, the stage proved disappointing for Finnish rider Kari Tianen, who is in second place overall.

He suffered major problems with his wheels and did not even figure in the top ten.

South African Alfie Cox, meanwhile, was a happier man after exercising caution over the testing course.

"I remember most of this stage from last year," said Cox.

"You are either going to crash, going to break or going to set a good time. I did not want to break the bike so I eased off and it worked. There is always the temptation to attack.

"It is not just a matter of surviving these sections. Just when I thought it was time to push, there would be a wadi or a jump and you would say to yourself slow down and don't do it."

After an eight-hour break, the crews and riders face a second 370km competitive section through southern Morocco and the Western Sahara that ends in Zouerat, Mauritania.

Leading results from first half of seventh stage:

1. Hiroshi Masuoka (Jap) Mitsubishi 3:13:23
2. Gregoire de Mevius (Bel) Nissan at 14 seconds
3. Kenjiro Shinozuka (Jap) Mitsubishi at 1:21
4. Jose Maria Servia (Spa) Nissan at 7:35
5. Jutta Kleinschmidt (Ger) Mitsubishi at 16:52

1. Carlo De Gavardo (Chi) KTM 3:33:03
2. Isidre Esteve Pujol (Spa) at 2:55
3. Joan Roma (Spa) KTM at 3:41
4. Alfie Cox (SA) KTM at 3:46
5. Richard Sainct (Fra) KTM at 4:11

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Leading overall standings after six full stages:

1. Hiroshi Masouka (Japan) Mitsubishi 4:50:16
2. Kenjiro Shinozuka (Japan) Mitsubishi at 2:04
3. Gregoire De Mevius (Belgium) at 3:47(BR) 4. Jutta Kleinschmidt (Germany) at 1:17 5. Jean-Pierre Fontenay (France) at 10:07

1. Joan Roma (Spain) KTM 5:05:48
2. Kari Tiainen (Finland) KTM at 1:28
3. Jordi Arcarons (Spain) KTM at 2:31
4. Alfie Cox (SA) KTM at 2:47
5. Fabrizio Meoni (Italy) KTM at 4:37

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