Peterhansel wins first stage in Tunisia

For immediate release

Special 280 kms - Liaison 31 kms


Biasion follows team mate in second place

SABRIA (Tunisia): Mitsubishi Motors began its challenge for honours in the Optic 2000 Rally of Tunisia in winning style, when Frenchman Stephane Peterhansel set the fastest time on the opening section between Oued Shili and Sabria in the first of two Mitsubishi Pajero* Evolutions.

Peterhansel and co-driver Jean-Paul Cottret beat Italian team mates Miki Biasion and Tiziano Siviero by 1m 44s to take an early lead on the second round of the 2003 FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies.

The stage was split into two sections and Peterhansel beat Biasion on both parts, as the Mitsubishi Motors duo opened up a commanding lead over the opposition at the start of this seven-day event across the remotest areas of southern Tunisia.

~The first section this morning was very fast,~ said Peterhansel. ~It was flat and there were no jumps. The second part was more difficult with a lot of jumps and some small dunes. We lost the road twice. Miki had the same problem, because the road book was a little vague in one place. I also had a small problem with the brakes. I think that there was some air in the system, but nothing serious.~

Second-placed Biasion and co-driver Siviero have now been together as a partnership on the international rally scene for 25 years and Biasion has won only three international rallies without his long-term partner.

~I still have to learn more about the car, because it is my first time in the Evolution and it is different to the classic Pajero*,~ said Biasion. ~I began to feel my shoulder hurting after a time, because there were a lot of jumps and the landings were hard. It was painful. I must continue to have some physio in the bivouac to make it easier.~ Biasion broke his arm in a freak skiing accident a little over one month ago.

South African Giniel de Villiers finished the stage in third overall, 5m 08s behind the leading Mitsubishi. Fourth overall through today's dusty special fell to the defending World Champion Jean-Louis Schlesser in his Buggy, the Frenchman finishing 9m 01s behind last year's winner Peterhansel.

Ralliart France customers graced the top 10 at the end of the opening stage. Frenchman Nicolas Misslin was fifth through the first section in the ex-Fontenay classic Pajero and held a similar position at the end of the leg. Germany's Andrea Mayer, Spaniard Jose-Luis Monterde and Poland's Lukasz Komornicki were sixth, eighth and ninth, respectively, with Komornicki a mere three seconds behind Monterde.

~I am pleased with my position today, but it was not that easy,~ said former enduro rider Mayer. ~We had a small problem with the engine computer and stopped on two occasions. We are also developing a new braking system and it was not ideal. We may make some changes.~

The opening section of the stage took place across a track marked with white posts, adjacent to the Algerian frontier to the right and the vast El Jerid chott (giant salt lake) to the left. The stage then turned south towards Nefta, due east and across the chott to a finish in Sabria.

Tomorrow's (Tuesday) section offers the first dune crossings at El Faouar and then a pipeline trail to the Fort of Bir Soltane. The route heads west across several potentially-treacherous wadis, including the renowned Ben Kachab, and passes undulating terrain to the finish at the Ksar Ghilane oasis.

Today's stage followed a 20-hour ferry crossing from Toulon on Saturday and a 443 kms road section from the port in Tunis to the first overnight bivouac at Oued Shili, near Tozeur, last night.

Positions after leg 1 (unofficial):
1. Stephane Peterhansel (F)/Jean-Paul Cottret (F) Mitsubishi Pajero* Evolution 2h 25m 10s
2. Miki Biasion (I)/Tiziano Siviero (I) Mitsubishi Pajero* Evolution 2h 26m 54s
3. Giniel de Villiers (ZA)/Tina Thorner (S) Nissan Pick-Up 2h 30m 18s
4. Jean-Louis Schlesser (F)/Jean-Marc Lurquin (F) Schlesser-Ford 2h 39m 11s
5. Nicolas Misslin (F)/Jean-Michel Polato (F) Mitsubishi Pajero* 2h 42m 00s
6. Andrea Mayer (D)/Andreas Schulz (D) Mitsubishi Pajero* 2h 54m 03s
7. Jean-Francois Guinot (F)/Manfred Kroiss Mitsubishi Challenger 2h 57m 06s
8. Jose-Luis Monterde (E)/Rafael Tornabell (E) Mitsubishi Pajero* 2h 57m 09s
9. Lukasz Komornicki (PL)/Rafal Marton (PL) Mitsubishi Pajero* 2h 57m 12s


Date issued: 07/04/2003

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