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Stephane Peterhansel clinches his third victory in Tunisia
Tunisia : Mitsubishi Motors - Leg 7
Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart Team driver Stéphane Peterhansel and co-driver Jean-Paul Cottret clinched their third victory in the Optic 2000 Rally of Tunisia, today (Easter Monday).
Peterhansel's success marked Mitsubishi's fourth win
in Tunisia in the last five years and the Japanese manufacturer's eighth triumph on the event since Frenchman Jean Da Silva's first win back in 1987. Peterhansel and Cottret won the event together in 2002 and 2004 and ‘Peter' was a twice winner on a factory motorcycle in 1990 and 1994.

The result also means that Stéphane Peterhansel joins his Mitsubishi team mate Luc Alphand at the head of the driver's points standings in this year's FIA Cross-Country Rally World Cup. Alphand claimed 15 points for his victory in last month's Patagonia-Atacama Rally. Peterhansel's winning margin over today's stage winner Giniel de Villiers was 7m 13s, with third-placed Jean-Louis Schlesser 15m 33s adrift.

“It's a great feeling to win here again,” said Peterhansel. “I remember three years ago, on the final stage, we were leading and we were forced to stop with a fire just 50 km from the end. After a bad Dakar it is good to win here again. It was a fast race with a strong entry. After 66 km today, Giniel passed me. I started slowly this morning. I heard his horn and he passed me.
I tried to follow him, but he had a good pace and I lost a couple of minutes with a tricky navigational section near the finish on the beach.”

“This was a tough rally and I am delighted that we have a victory,” said MMSP's Team Director Dominique Serieys. “Our rivals also had problems with one car. We have learnt a lot for the next Dakar. We are still winning. We have now won in Dubai, Dakar. South America and, now, here in Tunisia. Our new car is coming and that can only make us stronger in the future. I am proud of our team and I am positive about the future.”

“I am delighted for the entire team and would like to thank them for their efforts this week,” said MMSP's Team President Isao Torii. “This is another major step towards the next Dakar. Stéphane has regained his confidence with this win. Hiroshi's goal is the next Dakar. He and Luc had bad luck, but they have both learned from this event and we hope that this will stand them in good stead in the future.”

Japanese team mate Hiroshi Masuoka and co-driver Pascal Maimon lost their chance of a potential podium finish when they suffered transmission woes on Sunday's Ksar Ghilane loop stage and were unable to complete the stage in just front-wheel drive.

But the duo were permitted to restart this morning from 31st place in the overall standings with a 15-hour time penalty imposed. They duly set the fourth fastest time on the final stage between Ksar Ghilane and El Kantara, overtaking 25 cars in the process.

“We wanted to finish the stage on Sunday, but it was not possible,” said Masuoka. “You can drive in rear-wheel drive, but not in front-wheel drive over this terrain. I wasn't sure what caused the mechanical failure. It was sudden and very disappointing. But I wanted to start the final stage today. I passed many cars. The Sentinel system worked well and everyone let me through, but it was not possible to set the fastest time.”

Only two of the three Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero Evolutions reached the finish: Luc Alphand and co-driver Gilles Picard held second overall at the start of the El Borma to Ksar Ghilane stage on Easter Saturday, but were forced to retire the third Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero Evolution after an accident.

Alphand – last year's winner in Tunisia - sustained a minor hand injury in the incident, but the car's integral roll cage was damaged by the impact and team management had no alternative but to withdraw this year's Dakar Rally winners from the event.

Today's final 293 km stage was made up of 200 km of gravel, 50 km of stony terrain and the balance of sand and tarmac tracks. The special skirted last Monday night's bivouac in Ras El Oued, headed passed the old fort at Ksar Jedid and onwards across several chotts to a finish near the sea at El Kantara.

This year's Optic 2000 Rally of Tunisia was held over a compact total route of 2,274 km, of which 2,042 km were competitive.
Press Release Mitsubishi Motors

     Peterhansel closes in on overall victory
     Giniel De Villiers in second place before the final day
     Second on day for Giniel de Villiers
     Punctures fail stop Peterhansel maintaining lead
     Volkswagen driver Giniel de Villiers holds second place
     Stage winner Peterhansel extends rally lead
     Stage victory for De Villiers in Tunisia
     Peterhansel extends his lead into El Borma
     Team Nissan Aventure watches and waits
     Volkswagen's birthday boy Carlos Sainz takes third

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