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Peterhansel closes in on overall victory
Tunisia : Mitsubishi Motors - Leg 6
Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart Team driver Stéphane Peterhansel and co-driver Jean-Paul Cottret will take an overall advantage of 8m 54s into the final day of the Optic 2000 Rally of Tunisia, after setting a fastest time of 3h 03m 27s in the
penultimate 276 km loop stage around the bivouac in Ksar Ghilane, today (Easter Sunday).
Team mates Hiroshi Masuoka and Pascal Maimon began the stage fifth on the road and in fourth position in the overall classification. They were running in a competitive pace through the first passage control, but differential-related problems then reduced their car to two-wheel drive in the stage. Masuoka continued for a time at a much slower pace, but the onset of sandy tracks and deep sand meant that it was impossible for the Japanese to complete the stage in sufficient time to maintain his position.

Peterhansel had begun the morning's special in third position on the road behind Saturday's stage winner Jean-Louis Schlesser and South Africa's Giniel de Villiers. He was able to pass both drivers during the course of the special and reached the finish 2m 11s ahead of De Villiers and 7m 37s in front of Schlesser's Buggy.

“It was a good stage for me,” said Peterhansel. “At the beginning there were a lot of small dunes and many jumps. There was some tricky camel grass. After 120 km I passed Jean-Louis and Giniel in some small dunes. Then I was ahead for the rest of the stage. It was bumpy in many places and there were some large rocks. Now I am happy. I can control the race from the front.
I think that starting first is the perfect position for me tomorrow.”

Today's 276 km special stage passed the fort at Ksar Ghilane and teams headed into a sandy section, which arrived at the Toual El Bibane pass. The special was made up of 40 km of sandy tracks, 160 km of gravel and the balance of rocky and stony terrain. A final technical section over undulating tracks near Djeel Demmer and across heavily-rutted roads brought teams back to the overnight halt in Ksar Ghilane for a second night.

Mitsubishi team mates Luc Alphand and Gilles Picard had been unable to continue on Sunday morning, following the accident which left Alphand with a minor hand injury and a badly damaged car on Saturday's El Borma to Ksar Ghilane special.

“It was a freak accident and so annoying for me,” admitted Alphand, before leaving the bivouac with co-driver Gilles Picard on Sunday morning, bound for Djerba and an onward flight to France. “I was distracted at a crucial braking point and missed the corner. My speed was too high and we went over a ditch and rolled several times. It was my first accident of this kind in a rally car. I am bitterly disappointed for the entire team.”

“This has been an exciting race so far and the level of competition has been very high,” said MMSP's Team Director Dominique Serieys. “We have had our fair share of problems. Now we have a good lead and I am pleased. Stéphane and Jean-Paul did a good job for us today. Now we will see what happens tomorrow.”

Tomorrow (Monday) is the final stage of this year's Optic 2000 Rally of Tunisia. The day features a short transfer to the start of a 293 km special stage, finishing on the coast at El Kantara, near the island of Djerba.

The final stage passes close to Monday's first bivouac at Ras El Oued and continues on to a fort at Ksar Jedid. The track crosses potentially treacherous chotts (salt lakes) and features a late technical section near the coast. Surviving crews will then head into a 50 km liaison section to the podium at ‘Pasino de Djerba.'
Press Release Mitsubishi Motors

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     Peterhansel extends his lead into El Borma
     Team Nissan Aventure watches and waits
     Volkswagen's birthday boy Carlos Sainz takes third
     Peterhansel extends overall lead in Tunisia

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