Tunisia : Mitsubishi Motors - Leg 3
Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart Team driver Stéphane Peterhansel and co-driver Jean-Paul Cottret extended their overall advantage in the Optic 2000 Rally of Tunisia to 4m 31s, after the longest special stage of the rally - a punishing 325 km
section from Nekrif to the remote oil terminal at El Borma - today (Thursday).
Mitsubishi team mates Luc Alphand and Gilles Picard gained a place in the overall standings to hold third position, despite a puncture and navigational problems, and Hiroshi Masuoka and Pascal Maimon maintained sixth overall.
Peterhansel started the stage in third position on the road with a 4m 04s overall advantage over Frenchman Jean-Louis Schlesser and was the first driver to reach the stage finish, after a tricky section of sand dunes caught out his closest rivals. The twice former winner of this second round of the FIA Cross-Country Rally World Cup eventually set the second fastest time behind the stage-winning South African Giniel de Villiers.
“We passed Luc near the start when he had a puncture and then we drove together,” said Peterhansel. “Jean-Louis opened the road and we followed, but then Luc took to the front before the third passage control and then lost his way. Then we found ourselves leading the way to the finish. It was not part of my strategy to be the first car into the stage tomorrow morning in the sand dunes, so I did not want to win this stage.”
Alphand and Picard began the day running behind Jean-Louis Schlesser's Buggy in second position on the stage. They lost some time with a puncture early on, but were quickly back into a competitive pace and passed three of their rivals before losing precious minutes with a navigational mistake after a series of tricky sand dunes near the finish. This year's Dakar Rally winner was disgruntled to only set the third fastest time, although he moved up from fourth to third place in the overall standings.
“I had a flat tire at the start, but then we settled into a really good pace and I made up the time,” said a disgruntled Alphand at the stage finish. “I passed De Villiers, Stéphane and Schlesser in the dunes. Then I threw it all away. One stupid mistake and all that hard work was wasted. We were 40 km away from the finish. We crossed the pipeline and there was no GPS point. We took the decision to turn right and everyone else went left. We drove for four kilometres in the wrong direction and then had to turn around. I feel very disappointed.”
Today's 325 km special began 14.40 km from the Nekrif bivouac and headed south-west towards the marshes at Borj Jenein and onwards in a southerly direction towards the border with Libya and the Tiaret oil well. The route then swept west through a tricky dune complex to the finish near the overnight bivouac in El Borma.
The Nekrif bivouac had been affected by rain and thunderstorms during the night – a stark contrast to the punishing heat and gusting southerly-winds of the opening leg – and drizzle persisted throughout the day en route to El Borma.
Japan's Hiroshi Masuoka and French co-driver Pascal Maimon began the day in eighth place on the road behind their Mitsubishi team mates, the factory Volkswagens, Schlesser's Buggy, the Nissan of Krzysztof Holowczyc and the Buggy of Frenchman Phillipe Gache. A damaged brake disc was repaired in Nekrif and Masuoka set about making up lost time on his main rivals.
But the twice Dakar winner was delayed before the third passage control today and had dropped 13 minutes to his team mate before the final section through a series of sand dunes, driven in damp, drizzly conditions.
“We had to stop after the second passage control with an electrical problem,” said Masuoka. “We were stopped for around five minutes checking sensors and connectors. I think it may have been a spark plug problem, because it was okay after that and we were able to finish the stage and maintain our position.”
“The race really started today with the first of the dunes and the difficult off-road sections,” said MMSP's Team Director Dominique Serieys. “Now the next three days will be very important. We are in a good position. I told Stéphane this morning and last night not to worry about a strategy, just to race each day in turn. Our team are all in a positive state of mind and we just want to continue our progress and maintain our form.”
Tomorrow (Friday) the route will feature a 268 km loop stage around El Borma. This section consists of two laps – a longer 234 km section and a shorter 34 km stretch of sand dunes. The entire stage crosses sandy surfaces and treacherous dunes and is predicted to be the most difficult of the entire event. The event draws to a conclusion on the island of Djerba, Tunisia, on Monday, April 17th.
Press Release Mitsubishi Motors