Tuesday, 25 June 2024
09 April 2004 - 20:40
Peterhansel and Despres lead in cross-country rally Tunisia
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Peterhansel and Coma take the first special
Optic 2000 Rally Tunisia : Leg 1 - 281 km [06/04/04 - 16:02]

Nearly 300 kilometres without GPS points and only the road book to guide them the organisers of the 23rd Rallye OPTIC 2000 Tunisie obviously decided to plunge the competitors in at the deep end with a navigation stage that was fast and slippery over the first half and technical and bumpy towards the end. And if the organisers hoped to provoke a few upsets right from the off they weren't disappointed. In the car class Stephane Peterhansel (Mitsubishi Pajero Evo II) had a fright at the beginning and the end but still managed to post the fastest time ahead of Philippe Gache's impressive buggy. His team mate on the other hand, the Japanese driver Masuoka, run into big problems with his clutch.

In the bike class it was Marc Coma (KTM LC4) who took advantage of Frenchman Cyril Despres's navigation talents to win by a slim margin and in doing so take his first African special.

No smoke without fire on coming to a stop at the finish line of the first special of the Rallye OPTIC 2000 Tunisie, Stephane Peterhansel had a big fright when thick smoke started pouring out of the rear left side of his Mitsubishi Pajero. Fortunately it took his mechanics only a few seconds to bring the fire under control caused by some dry grass catching fire on his red hot brakes. One year after having lost almost certain victory with a similar problem Peter' might be tempted to think the area doesn't smile upon him especially as early in the morning, just before the start, the recent winner of the Dakar suffered fuel supply problems.

Another fire ended Nicolas Misslin's chances just 2 kilometres after the start, completely destroying the young Frenchman's car. Big problems as well for the other works Mitsubishi of Hiroshi Masuoka that ran into clutch problems just after the half way point but who is likely to nevertheless start tomorrow all be it well down the rankings. It seemed the chance Kenjiro Shinozuka (Nissan) was looking for, until he too broke his transmission 50 kilometres from the finish line. All of which worked in the favour of Philippe Gache, aboard his SMG buggy, who posted the second fastest time ahead of Dominique Housieaux's Pajero and Khalifa Al Mutawei's BMW X5.

In the T1 class TV presenter Alexandre Debanne (Mercedes ML) took the lead from Isabelle Patissier (Nissan Pathfinder) while Jean-Pierre Strugo gave away precious minutes before being pulled out of a ditch by Stephane Henrard. At the time of writing only two trucks had arrived at the bivouac the two Mercedes of Italians Paccani and Panseri.

In the bike class the Spaniard Marc Coma (KTM LC4) won his first African special ahead of French rivals Cyril Despres (victim of a low speed crash) and Richard Sainct (broken gearbox lever). Also victim of a spectacular crash was the South African Alfie Cox who went on to finish the day 4th fastest ahead of the Chilean Carlo De Gavardo (KTM), who takes the lead in the 450 class ahead of Cyril Portal (KTM) and Franck Olmi on his heavily modified XR400. Big losers in the 450 class were David Casteu who ran into fuel supply problems on his Husqvarna and the ACNA supported rider Didier Py (Honda) who was forced to retire with a fractured leg.

Pres Release
Neveu Pelletier Organisation


Peterhansel and Despres lead
Optic 2000 Rally Tunisia : Leg 2 - 307 km [07/04/04 - 17:02]

The first of three loops on this 23rd Rallye OPTIC 2000 Tunisie, the second special took the competitors over 300 kilometres of varied terrain that required both speed and navigation skill. A mix that seemed to suit Stephane Peterhansel down to the ground, with the Frenchman once again posting the fastest time in his Mitsubishi Pajero Evo II, ahead of his team mate Masuoka, who started at the back of the field this morning after yesterday's clutch problems. Third was Kenjiro Shinozuka (Nissan Pickup), who despite electrical problems, finished ahead of the Honda buggy of Thierry Magnaldi.

In the bikes it was the Frenchman Cyril Despres (KTM LC4) who came out on top, taking the special and the overall lead. Less successful was his team mate Richard Sainct who lost nearly quarter of an hour after crashing mid-way through the special. The grill of his Mitsubishi Pajero covered in crickets, encountered towards the end of the special, Stephane Peterhansel arrived at the finish after driving a faultless stage that saw him increase his lead over the Nissan Pickup of Kenjiro Shinozuka by 30 minutes - third on the stage, despite electrical problems that caused loss of engine power. The Japanese driver finished behind another factory Pajero that of his compatriot Masuoka, who started right at the back this morning after yesterday's clutch problems.

The real surprise of the day however came from one of the many buggies entered on this Rallye OPTIC 2000 Tunisie. Starting a way back this morning, the Frenchman Thierry Magnaldi fought through the dust to finish an impressive fourth, five minutes ahead of the VW Tarek of the Belgian driver Stephane Henrard, himself just a few seconds off the virtual' podium, behind the Pole Komornicki (Mitsubishi Pajero). The SMG buggies of Philippe Gache and Jean- Pierre Richelmi had a less successful day after a coming together' and Gache breaking his gearbox.

In T1 Isabelle Patissier (Nissan Pathfinder) and Alexandre Debanne (Mercedes ML) once again fought wheel-to-wheel today, with Patissier finally coming out on top to pull back to just one minute behind her rival overall. In the trucks it is still the Russian Mardeev who dominates in his Kamaz, ahead of the Mercedes of Italians Panseri and Paccani.

On two wheels, Cyril Despres achieved a fine double. Winner of the stage ahead of the Spaniard Esteve Pujol, the KTM factory rider also took the overall lead off another Spaniard, Marc Coma, who now trails by one and a half minutes. Team mate Richard Sainct had less to celebrate after a crash just after the refuelling point damaged his navigation equipment, his front brake and his clutch lever. In the process he lost nearly a quarter of an hour on the leader. The South African Alfie Cox also ran into problems out on the piste when his gearbox got stuck in 4th and 5th gears. He lost over 20 minutes and plunges down the rankings to 10th place. The Chilean Carlo De Gavardo (KTM) finished 5th today and in so doing consolidated his leadership over Franck Olmi (Honda XR400) and the KTM of Cyril Portal in the 450 class.

Pres Release
Neveu Pelletier Organisation


Welcome to the hell of El Borma
Optic 2000 Rally Tunisia : Leg 3 - 328 km [08/04/04 - 16:30]

The transition stage to the oil fields of El Borma, in the extreme south of Tunisia, just next to the Algerian border, offered a foretaste of tomorrow's famous El Borma loop. Today, certain competitors discovered real sand dunes for the first time but nothing like they will encounter tomorrow on a stage entirely run through the giant erg.

Starting first and second this morning, the two Mitsubishi Pajero Evos of Peterhansel and Masuoka dominated the car race, with the Japanese driver posting the fastest time ahead of his team mate and the Nissan Pickup of Kenjiro Shinozuka - second overall but 45 minutes behind Peterhansel. In the bikes the Spaniard Marc Coma (KTM LC4) took his second stage victory and closed the gap on Cyril Despres, second on the day but still overall leader by just 10m seconds.

Stony and then sandy, the 3rd stage of the Rallye Optic 200 Tunisie saw the Japanese driver Hiroshi Masuoka win his first special victory of the race, while staying behind Stephane Peterhansel in case the Frenchman ran into any problems.

Third on the stage and still second overall, Kenjiro Shinozuka (Nissan Pickup) can nevertheless feel his fellow competitors breathing down his neck. 44 minutes behind Peterhansel, the ex-Dakar winner has only a quarter of an hour lead over the buggies of Henrard and Magnaldi. Going up from 15th to 6th place today in his BMW X5, Al Mutawei also declared his firm intention to finish on the podium a place relinquished by Komornicki (Mitsubishi) today after running out of petrol in sight of the finish line. With 7 different marques in the top ten the race could hardly be more cosmopolitan'.

In the T1 category Isabelle Patissier (Nissan Pathfinder) didn't give any birthday presents to Alexandre Debanne (Mercedes ML). Still locked in a fierce battle for the lead in the production class, the ex-world climbing champion now leads the TV presenter by 2 minutes 30 overall. While the Russian Mardeev still dominates the truck class ahead of Italians Panseri and Paccani, lady drivers Aline Rambeau (FR Mercedes) and Elisabete Jacinto (Por Renault) are fighting it out for 4th place with only 1 minute separating them.

On two wheels Cyril Despres (KTM LC4) gave away more than 1 minute today to his closest rival Marc Coma (KTM LC4). The young Spaniard took his second stage win and is now only 10 seconds behind the Frenchman. Fourth on the day, Richard Sainct (KTM LC4) once again had problems that forced him to slip further behind the leaders and the Frenchman is now uncomfortably close to KTM team mate Esteve Pujol. Privateer Norwegian Pal Anders Ullevalseter scored an impressive sixth place.

In the 450 class Carlo De Gavardo (KTM) is still comfortably in the lead, now ahead of the Frenchman Cyril Portal, with Franck Olmi back in third after hurting his back. On the quads Christophe Declerck (Yamaha) is still in the lead but the exploit of the day must go to Jean-Philippe Caillet, who despite his handicap, stopped to give petrol to the pole Komornicki.
Press Release
Neveu Pelletier Organisati


Al Mutaiwei and Ullevalseter king of the dunes
Optic 2000 Rally Tunisia : Leg 4 - 262 km [09/04/04 - 16:04]
The infamous El Borma loop, highlight of the Rallye Optic 2000 Tunisie, lived up to all its promise today. Almost entirely off-piste, in the sand, it suited Khalifa Al Mutaiwei and his BMW X5 down to the ground the United Arab Emirates driver winning the stage ahead of the buggies of Frenchman Magnaldi (Honda) and the Belgian Henrard (VW Tarek. Stephane Peterhansel nevertheless managed to maintain his comfortable lead over the Nissan Pickup of Shinozuka, now under pressure from Henrard, Magnaldi and Mutawei.

Once again author of a faultless stage, the Frenchman Cyril Despres (KTM LC4) increased his overall lead. Second today, he was beaten to first place on the special by the Norwegian Pal Anders Ullevalseter (KTM LC4). A revelation here last year and on the last Dakar, the Viking' beat not only Despres but also, in order, Sainct, Cox and Coma, who gave away nearly 7.5 minutes with a navigation error at the start of the special.

Just two years ago on his first African rallye - Khalifa Al Mutawei was the hero of El Borma. After having stopped next to the Schlesser buggy of the seriously injured Spaniard Servia, Khalifa went on to win the following stage in the dunes. Today, at the wheel of his BMW X5, he once again impressed. Held back at the start of the rallye by small mechanically problems, he attacked this stage with the firm intention of winning. At ease in the sand, he quickly got into the tracks of the two Mitsubishi Pajeros, to win the special ahead of Thierry Magnaldi's Honda powered buggy and Stephane Henrard's VW Tarek. While Stephane Peterhansel, 5th today, managed his race perfectly, aided by his team mate Masuoka, the Nissan Pickup of Shinozuka, 4th on the loop, is now under pressure from today's 3 first place finishers.

Another competitor who enjoyed her day in the dunes was Isabelle Patissier, in her Nissan T1. Ably supported by her team mate Belmondo, the ex-world climbing champion is now 7th overall and comfortable leader of the production class after Debanne and Strugo once again lost time in the sand.

On two wheels, the surprise of the day came from the Norwegian Pal Anders Ullevalseter (KTM LC4). As at ease on a motorcycle as he is on a pair of skis, the 34 year old from Oslo, surfed over the dunes to take his second ever African special victory. Second again today, Cyril Despres nevertheless increased his overall lead on the Spaniard Coma to nearly seven and a half minutes.

Despite what could have been a potentially enormous crash, Despres's team mate, Richard Sainct, enjoyed his first day without mechanical problems, to finish 3rd on the stage and third overall, 18 minutes behind the leader. In the 450 class, the Chilean Carlo De Gavardo managed to maintain his overall lead, despite discovering that his bike could do with going on a diet. Rival Cyril Portal however, crashed heavily and was repatriated to the rallye's medical unit with back problems.

Press Release
Neveu Pelletier Organisation


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