MMSP gets 2004 programme underway in Tunisia
MITSUBISHI MOTORS MOTOR SPORTS CROSS-COUNTRY 2004 PROGRAMME GETS UNDERWAY IN TUNISIA
Dakar winner Stéphane Peterhansel and Hiroshi Masuoka to lead Tunisia challenge;
Four Ralliart customer Pajeros/Monteros in Tunisia
TREBUR (Germany): Frenchman Stéphane Peterhansel and Japan's Hiroshi Masuoka will lead Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sport's (MMSP) challenge for honours in next week's seven-day Optic 2000 Rally of Tunisia, the opening round of the 2004 Cross-Country Rallies World Cup.
Peterhansel and French co-driver Jean-Paul Cottret - the winners of this year's Telefónica Dakar Rally - will drive one of the two Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero Evolutions on arguably the most difficult round of the championship. Joining Masuoka at the start in Nice on Sunday, April 4th, will be French co-driver Gilles Picard.
Peterhansel and Cottret controlled last year's Rally of Tunisia for six of the seven stages, only to lose a potential victory within sight of the finish of the final stage when their car caught fire. Since then the Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero Evolution has been tested extensively in Morocco and has taken emphatic victories in both the UAE Desert Challenge and Dakar Rally. The specification of both cars remains unchanged since Mitsubishi's successful first and second places in the Dakar Rally.
Masuoka and Picard finished second overall in January's Dakar Rally, after leading over the early sections through Mauritania. The Japanese driver did not contend in last year's Rally of Tunisia, but drove the revised Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero Evolution for the first time in competition during last October's UAE Desert Challenge after taking part in an extensive Moroccan test last summer.
Peterhansel finished third overall in last year's FIA Cross-Country Rallies World Cup for Drivers, despite missing several rounds of the series. He and Hiroshi will both be bidding to win the opening round in North Africa. Stéphane won the Rally of Tunisia outright for the Mitsubishi team in 2002.
~Tunisia is one of my favourite events of the year,~ said Peterhansel. ~Last year was bitterly disappointing for me and the entire team and it came on the heels of our disappointments in Dakar 2003 and Italy. But that is history and we have begun this year in the best possible way by winning the Dakar. That was a dream for me and I am looking forward to continuing my run of good results.~
~This is the start of another chapter for Mitsubishi,~ said MMSP's Team Director Dominique Serieys. ~I hope that we can continue the development of the team and achieve further successes in this formula. This rally will be a good challenge for us and a chance to test the tyres in collaboration with BF Goodrich. It is a very tough rally. The seven legs are all very different. There are rough sections, fast stages, some sandy areas and each one will be a big test for our team.
~We have a strong driver line-up, but it will not be easy. The competition is always difficult. We will have to watch out for the X-Raid team and the Buggies.~
The event starts in Nice with a Prologue stage on Sunday, April 4th, before the entire rally caravan heads towards Marseille and the Mediterranean ferry crossing aboard the 'Daniella Casanova' to Tunis. Seven off-road selective sections follow in the remote deserts in the south of Tunisia, before the event draws to a close at the town of Tozeur on Easter Monday (April 12th).
Mitsubishi Ralliart will look after four customer teams during the Rally of Tunisia. Spaniards Jose-Luis Monterde and Rafael Tornabell have entered in a Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero and are keen to put the disappointment of failing to finish the Dakar Rally behind them.
They will be joined at the start in Nice by Poland's Lukasz Komornicki and his co-driver Rafal Marton. Komornicki finished fifth overall in last year's FIA Cross-Country Rallies World Cup in his Team Orlen-backed Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero and the pair began this season by finishing 14th overall in the Telefónica Dakar Rally.
The third customer Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero will be in the hands of Frenchman Dominique Housieaux and his co-driver Loic Fagot. Housieaux finished 13th in January's Telefónica Dakar Rally after holding a top 10 placing for several days.
Tunisian lady driver Abla Lassoued joins the Mitsubishi Ralliart team for the first time and drives a Pajero/Montero on her home event.