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Punctures fail stop Peterhansel maintaining lead
Tunisia : Mitsubishi Motors - Leg 5
Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart Team driver Stéphane Peterhansel and co-driver Jean-Paul Cottret maintained their overall advantage in the Optic 2000 Rally of Tunisia, after the 298 km stage between El Borma and Ksar Ghilane, today (Saturday).

But they sustained two flat tires on the way to the third fastest time behind the stage-winning Frenchman Jean-Louis Schlesser and second-placed South African Giniel de Villiers.

Mitsubishi team mates Luc Alphand and Gilles Picard had damaged the transmission near the end of Friday's El Borma loop stage and minor repairs were carried out in the bivouac, before they set out into the stage this morning behind their leading team mates. But Alphand rolled his Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero Evolution out of the podium positions on a deceptive left-hand corner in today's stage, near to the point where the assistance route crossed the special stage.

Japan's Hiroshi Masuoka and French co-driver Pascal Maimon sustained a time-consuming puncture, but their team mates' demise lifted them to fourth overall in the overall standings.

Peterhansel will now take a 6m 43s overall advantage over De Villiers's Volkswagen into the penultimate stage on Sunday. Schlesser lies 7m 19s adrift of Mitsubishi's leading Pajero/Montero Evolution.

“We had two flat tires today and that was so costly for us,” said Peterhansel. “One was around 50 km from the end of the stage and that allowed Jean-Louis to get past us and set a faster time. The other was about 20 km from the end and that cost us more time.

“Today's stage was not too technical and very fast. At one point there was a long straight and it was very bumpy. It was not easy, so we were careful. Losing so much time means we are no longer in a comfortable position and will need to keep our concentration on Sunday.”

Today's 298 km special stage began 47 km out of the oil terminal at El Borma and meandered in an easterly and southerly direction before continuing north via the desert settlement of Borj Borguiba to a finish near Ksar Ghilane. The actual finish was close to a memorial statue erected in memory of Colonel Leclerc, a celebrated French WW2 veteran, who clinched a decisive victory in the region back in 1943.

Masuoka remained resolute in a solid fourth place: “At the beginning of the stage I got a flat tire and then we stopped again to check that I hadn't damaged a wheel when we clouted a rock,” said Masuoka. “I saw where Luc's accident happened. It was a place with no caution in the road book. There was a slight left-hand corner and he appeared just to have gone straight on. The car was badly damaged. It looked as though he rolled a few times.”

Tomorrow (Easter Sunday) teams will tackle the penultimate stage of the event – a 278 km loop around the bivouac at Ksar Ghilane. The stage will offer 40 km of sandy tracks, 160 km of gravel and the balance made up of stony terrain.

This special takes in the Toual El Bibane pass and the junction of Tembain and Bir El Hadj Brahim, before reaching the overnight halt and the thermal springs in Ksar Ghilane via a punishing section of ‘washboard' or heavily rutted and corrugated track. The event draws to a conclusion on the island of Djerba, Tunisia, on Easter Monday.
Press Release Mitsubishi Motors

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     Stage winner Peterhansel extends rally lead
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     Peterhansel extends his lead into El Borma
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     Volkswagen's birthday boy Carlos Sainz takes third
     Peterhansel extends overall lead in Tunisia
     Volkswagen start in third and fourth positions in Tunisia
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