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Fire hands Schlesser victory in Tunisia

OPTIC 2000 RALLY OF TUNISIA

For immediate release
Sunday, April 13th, 2003

LEG 7: NEKRIF - DJERBA
Transfer 15 kms, Special 215 kms, Liaison 37 kms

PETERHANSEL'S CAR DESTROYED BY FIRE
AS SCHLESSER WINS RALLY OF TUNISIA

Career-best Cross-Country finishes for Biasion, Misslin, Komornicki and Mayer

DJERBA (Tunisia): The Mitsubishi Motors' team lost a possible victory in the Optic 2000 Rally of Tunisia in dramatic circumstances, when runaway leaders Stephane Peterhansel and Jean-Paul Cottret were forced out of the rally by a fire which destroyed their Mitsubishi Pajero* Evolution 60 kms from the end of the final stage between Nekrif and Djerba today (Sunday).

Peterhansel had begun the day 53m 59s minutes ahead of the defending World Champion Jean-Louis Schlesser, but his car suddenly caught fire near the second passage control. The flames quickly took hold and the car was destroyed. The incident handed a surprise victory to Frenchman Schlesser and his co-driver Jean-Marc Lurquin in their Buggy.

~We both smelt petrol and stopped to see what was happening,~ said a shattered Peterhansel. ~Jean-Paul got out of the car and shouted to me to get out quickly. There were flames on my side by the front wheel and we tried to put them out. We used the extinguishers, but it was not enough. Miki was following close behind and he stopped to help us and we threw sand on the fire. But it was not possible to get it under control.

~I cannot believe this can happen. It is like a nightmare for me to lose a race on the last day three times this year. It is maybe the curse of a black cat.~

~This is the first time we have lost one of our rally cars to a fire since Jean-Pierre Fontenay's Pajero* was damaged on the 1992 Paris-Cape Town Rally,~ admitted team director Dominique Serieys.

Peterhansel had passed his Italian team mates Miki Biasion and Tiziano Siviero shortly after the start this morning when the Italians pulled over to wait. They were on the scene of the incident in less than a minute and tried in vain to put out the flames. Biasion eventually completed the rally in second place overall - the result was the twice former World Rally Champion's best ever finish on a round of the FIA World Cup.

Frenchman Nicolas Misslin benefitted from his team mate's misfortune by taking third position in his ex-Fontenay classic Pajero*. Ralliart France cars filled fourth, fifth and sixth places overall. Poland's Lukasz Komornicki headed Germany's Andrea Mayer and Spaniard Jose-Luis Monterde to the finish, with Misslin, Komornicki and Mayer all taking career-best finishes.

~Of course I am pleased with my result,~ said Komornicki. ~But we all feel for Stephane and are thankful that he and Jean-Paul are okay.~

~There were no problems for us today,~ said Mayer's co-driver Andreas Schulz. ~We overtook Monterde yesterday when he had his fuel filter problem and we are both pleased with our fifth place.~ Mayer set the second fastest time today.

The day's stage offered a balance of small dunes, some tricky navigation and the crossing of a final chott. The finish took place on the beach at El Kantara, near the holiday resort of Djerba.

Ends

Positions and times on today's stage (top 3 only):
1. Jean-Louis Schlesser (F)/Jean-Marc Lurquin (F) Schlesser-Ford 1h 55m 16s
2. Andrea Mayer (D)/Andreas Schulz (D) Mitsubishi Pajero* 2h 06m 24s
3. Thierry Magnaldi (F)/Francois Borsotto (F) Honda Buggy 2h 06m 49s

Final positions after leg 7 (unofficial):
1. Jean-Louis Schlesser (F)/Jean-Marc Lurquin (F) Schlesser-Ford 20h 13m 50s
2. Miki Biasion (I)/Tiziano Siviero (I) Mitsubishi Pajero* Evolution 21h 24m 27s
3. Nicolas Misslin (F)/Jean-Michel Polato (F) Mitsubishi Pajero* 21h 54m 13s
4. Lukasz Komornicki (PL)/Rafal Marton (PL) Mitsubishi Pajero* 22h 57m 12s
5. Andrea Mayer (D)/Andreas Schulz (D) Mitsubishi Pajero* 23h 47m 59s
6. Jose-Luis Monterde (E)/Rafael Tornabell (E) Mitsubishi Pajero* 24h 13m 04s
ntries/Shogun in the UK


Date issued: 13/04/2003

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