Tunisia : Mitsubishi Motors - Leg 2
Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart Team driver Stéphane Peterhansel and co-driver Jean-Paul Cottret extended their overall advantage in this year's Optic 2000 Rally of Tunisia to 4m 04s after the 295 km timed Nekrif loop stage, today (Wednesday).
mates Luc Alphand and Gilles Picard moved up to fourth place, after setting the second fastest time behind stage winner Jean-Louis Schlesser. But Japanese driver Hiroshi Masuoka and French co-driver Pascal Maimon slipped to sixth overall after collecting no less than four flat tires during the course of the stage.
Peterhansel was the first car into today's varied special, but he was soon into a competitive pace. “I struggled at the start yesterday with the pace on the faster sections, but today it was no problem,” said Peterhansel. “The tracks are always a pleasure to drive on in Tunisia.”
“There are few hidden wadis. At the beginning of the stage we lost a couple of minutes, because we failed to find the fastest track, but then we were okay. Jean-Paul and I never really mind being the first car into the stage. For sure, you need to maintain your concentration, but that is part of the job for us.”
The French pairing of Luc Alphand and Gilles Picard completed the day's stage 1m 45s behind Schlesser's Buggy and climbed to fourth overall.
“I think it is always easier to start behind a few cars and we were fifth into the stage this morning. You always have a confirmation for the navigation and that makes it a little easier. I was happy when I saw Carlos (Sainz) and then I saw Giniel. But then we saw Schlesser closing behind us…..”
Japan's Hiroshi Masuoka and French co-driver Pascal Maimon began the day in second place, a mere 1m 42s behind Peterhansel, but Mitsubishi's third Pajero/Montero Evolution struggled to make headway today. “Hiroshi and I were almost together, but then he had a flat tire and continued after Carlos,” said Alphand. “Hiroshi followed me again and then there was a tight corner and he hit another stone and stopped.”
In fact, Masuoka sustained four flat tires and lost 19m 43s to the stage winner and slipped to sixth place. “It was not a good day for me,” said Masuoka. “I punctured trying to overtake a motorcycle and then it just got worse. Now I will have to push a little on Thursday to gain back some time.”
Today's 295 km stage was made up of 50 km of stony terrain, 50 km of sand and the balance consisted of varied gravel tracks. The stage began on a narrow, winding road as it headed back towards the frontier with Libya. Teams then passed an assistance point near the old fort at Ksar Jedid, before crossing the Erg el Mitt en route to the finish three kilometres from the remote town of Remada. A 17 km liaison section brought crews back to the overnight camp in Nekrif.
Tomorrow (Thursday) sees a return to the renowned oil outpost at El Borma, near Tunisia's south-western frontier with Algeria. The remote airstrip was last used as an overnight halt on the Dakar Rally in 2003 and has been regularly used by Tunisian event organisers in recent years.
Often susceptible to violent sand storms, El Borma lies at the end of a long and punishing gravel track, which stretches west of Remada from Kambout, near Borj Bourguiba, to the oil terminal. The stage is set to cross the marshes of Borj Jenien and continue onwards via the oil wells near the Libyan border at Tiaret to a final crossing of a series of dunes. An 11.88 km liaison section will take crews into the bivouac, sheltered from the wind in a copse of trees under a giant sand dune.
The event finishes on the island of Djerba, Tunisia, on Monday, April 17th.
Press Release Mitsubishi Motors