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Mitsubishi on track for Tunisia win

OPTIC 2000 RALLY OF TUNISIA

For immediate release
Saturday, April 12th, 2003

LEG 6: NEKRIF - NEKRIF
Transfer 15 kms, Special 315 kms, Liaison 15 kms

PETERHANSEL STAYS ON TRACK IN RALLY OF TUNISIA

Biasion fastest today; Monterde badly delayed

NEKRIF (Tunisia): Mitsubishi Motors team mates Stephane Peterhansel and Jean-Paul Cottret will take a 54-minute lead into the final leg of the Optic 2000 Rally of Tunisia, after setting the third fastest time on the penultimate 315 kms Nekrif loop stage today (Saturday).

At the wheel of the first of two Mitsubishi Pajero* Evolutions, the French duo started the stage an hour later than originally planned after the organisers changed the timetable as a result of early morning fog. They returned to the Nekrif bivouac 4m 45s behind their stage-winning team mates Miki Biasion and Tiziano Siviero and 1m 29s behind the defending World Champion Jean-Louis Schlesser.

~It was the first time today that I actually started very slowly,~ admitted Peterhansel. ~Now I have a big advantage and it is not necessary to drive fast. It was an interesting day, because there was some tricky navigation and it wasn't easy to find the correct track. There were some short fast sections, but it was technical.

~I don't think I want to follow anyone tomorrow. I will start third and drive slowly at my own pace. Of course I will be keeping my fingers crossed that we don't have any problems on the last day again.~

~All the drivers in front of me on the road were very sporting when they realised that I was behind them,~ said Biasion. ~As soon as they saw me they pulled over to the right side of the track. We got a puncture again today, four kilometres from the end, but we managed to drive on the rim to the finish. I have had a puncture every day. Maybe these stages don't like my driving style!~

Nicolas Misslin began the stage over 23 minutes behind Biasion in fourth overall at the wheel of the ex-Fontenay classic Pajero* and set the fourth fastest time. ~Today was okay for me,~ said the 20-year-old. ~I ran well. There were no problems with the navigation or the car. Now I must maintain this position on the last day.~

Poland's Lukasz Komornicki's main aim was to hold off the challenge from Spanish team mate Jose-Luis Monterde. There was a mere 7m 49s between the two Ralliart France Pajeros at the start of the stage and the fifth-placed Pole extended his advantage, when Monterde stopped with engine problems 40 kms after the start.

~Not a bad day for us,~ admitted Komornicki's co-driver Rafal Marton. ~We passed Thierry Magnaldi and then we stopped to change a puncture and he and Andrea passed us. But we have a good hold on fifth place now.~

Germany's Andrea Mayer had been as high as fourth through the previous day's third passage control and the German was amongst the front-runners again early on. She now holds sixth overall. 'It was a real driving day,~ said her twice Dakar Rally-winning co-driver Andreas Schulz. ~If you can drive for three hours without getting out of the car, then you have to be happy.~

Today's penultimate stage featured a 315 kms loop around the Nekrif bivouac. The route ran close to the border with Libya and on to Fort Mched Salah. The tracks became narrower and rocky in the direction of an old fort at Ksar Jedid, before the return to Nekrif. Dense fog was prevalent this morning, but it lifted shortly before the cars left the restart, although there was a one-hour delay.

Tomorrow (Sunday) is the final stage of this year's Rally of Tunisia and features a 215 kms competitive section to a finish 37 kms from Djerba. Small dunes will be prevalent and the crossing of a final chott could prove treacherous near the end. The finish will take place on the beach at El Kantara.

Ends

Positions and times on today's stage (top 3 only):
1. Miki Biasion (I)/Tiziano Siviero (I) Mitsubishi Pajero* Evolution 3h 07m 03s
2. Jean-Louis Schlesser (F)/Jean-Marc Lurquin (F) Schlesser-Ford 3h 10m 19s
3. Stephane Peterhansel (F)/Jean-Paul Cottret (F) Mitsubishi Pajero* Evolution 3h 11m 48s
4. Nicolas Misslin (F)/Jean-Michel Polato (F) Mitsubishi Pajero* 3h 13m 49s

Positions after leg 6 (unofficial):
1. Stephane Peterhansel (F)/Jean-Paul Cottret (F) Mitsubishi Pajero* Evolution 17h 24m 34s
2. Jean-Louis Schlesser (F)/Jean-Marc Lurquin (F) Schlesser-Ford 18h 18m 34s
3. Miki Biasion (I)/Tiziano Siviero (I) Mitsubishi Pajero* Evolution 19h 06m 26s
4. Nicolas Misslin (F)/Jean-Michel Polato (F) Mitsubishi Pajero* 19h 36m 40s
5. Lukasz Komornicki (PL)/Rafal Marton (PL) Mitsubishi Pajero* 20h 42m 36s
6. Andrea Mayer (D)/Andreas Schulz (D) Mitsubishi Pajero* 21h 41m 35s


Date issued: 12/04/2003

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