Tunisia : Mitsubishi Motors - Leg 1
Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart Team driver Stéphane Peterhansel and co-driver Jean-Paul Cottret moved into the outright lead of the Optic 2000 Rally of Tunisia, after the first African special stage between Ras El Oued and Nekrif, today (Tuesday).
Japan's Hiroshi Masuoka and French co-driver Pascal Maimon held second position and this year's Dakar Rally winners Luc Alphand and Gilles Picard slipped to fifth overall after collecting a puncture in the third Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero Evolution.
Peterhansel and Cottret, twice former winners of the Dakar Rally with the Japanese manufacturer, began the day in fifth position on the road and the Frenchman admitted it was difficult to find a competitive pace. “It has been quite a time since I was last in a rally car and I was a little unsure about my pace on the high speed sections,' said Peterhansel.
“I felt fine in the technical sections and through the small dunes, but judging distances at speed was not easy. It will take a little time to regain that confidence, but I am pleased and surprised to be leading. I need to train my eyes to adjust to the fast terrain over the next few days.”
Team mate Masuoka was also pleased to be in contention and played down the severity of the wind and shifting wind, which made today's stage perilous for the motorcyclists running at the front of the field.
“I had no intention of pushing this morning,” said Masuoka.
“This rally is all about confidence for me and getting back into a competitive pace. This year my plan is to do maybe three rallies and a couple of tests before the next Dakar, so I want to have as much experience as possible. I am pleased with today's stage.”
Alphand began the stage in second place and reached the finish in third on the road a short distance behind Volkswagen's Carlos Sainz and team mate Masuoka. “Carlos had a puncture and I was in his dust for a time,” said Alphand, who set the fifth fastest time. “Then he caught me and we let him passed. Then Hiroshi came back at me and we were all running closely together until I collected a rear-right slow puncture and that cost me the chance of winning the stage.”
Today's 288 km stage included 230 km of gravel and 40 km of sandy tracks and began with a technical section before heading through the Jebel Demmer, below the Dahar plateau and on towards the Libyan frontier. The stage continued along the border and passed numerous old forts before arriving, via a 36 km liaison section, in the picturesque overnight halt in Nekrif amongst the eucalyptus groves.
The south of Tunisia has been affected by violent sand storms and strong winds in recent days and gusting winds hampered work for teams in the bivouac and assistance points.
Tomorrow (Wednesday) is the first of three loop stages in this year's Optic 2000 Rally of Tunisia. The Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart Team will tackle a 295 km selective section around the Nekrif bivouac. The stage is set to offer a variety of sandy, gravel and stony tracks and passes close to the Libyan border, before heading towards the ancient fort at Ksar Jedid and past a mountain range en route to the finish 17 km from the bivouac. The event finishes in Djerba, Tunisia, on Monday, April 17th.
Press Release Mitsubishi Motors