French duo of Peterhansel and Alphand joined by Japan’s Masuoka
Dakar Rally winner Alphand bids to retain Rally of Tunisia title
Optic 2000 Rally of Tunisia
2006 FIA Cross-Country Rally World Cup, round two
Friday, March 31, 2006
Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart Team has entered three Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero Evolutions in the Optic 2000 Rally of Tunisia, the second round of the 2006 FIA Cross-Country Rally World Cup. The event starts in Nice, France, on Sunday, April 9th and finishes in Djerba, Tunisia, on Monday, April 17th.
Dakar Rally winners Luc Alphand and Gilles Picard will be joined on the nine-day event by French team mates Stéphane Peterhansel and Jean-Paul Cottret and Japanese driver Hiroshi Masuoka and French co-driver Pascal Maimon. Each crew will drive an MPR12 version of the all-conquering Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero Evolution, built by the team that has won the gruelling Dakar Rally for the last six years.
Alphand and Picard will be bidding to continue their unbeaten start to the 2006 season. Last year’s Rally of Tunisia winners followed up their Dakar Rally success in January by winning last month’s punishing Patagonia-Atacama Rally in South America.
"I can’t wait for the start," enthused Alphand. "I had a good battle with ‘Nani’ (Roma) in South America and we gained 5,000 km of extra experience, but Tunisia will be very different. It is slightly shorter, a little more technical and the competition will be intense. Stéphane and Hiroshi always race to win and our other opponents are very strong and improving all the time. I would like to win my third event of the year, but it will not be easy."
Peterhansel and Cottret will be making their first appearance with the Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart team since finishing fourth overall in the Dakar Rally, while Masuoka and Maimon will be competing for the first time since retiring from January’s Dakar Rally following an unfortunate accident in southern Morocco.
"I am looking forward to getting back into the driving seat after the disappointment of retiring from the Dakar Rally," said Masuoka. "It seems a long time since I was last in a competitive rally car, but I have been keeping physically fit in Japan and making sure that I am completely prepared for this rally."
In addition to attempting to maintain their unbeaten run in 2007, the Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart Team will also use the event to test a new fuel pump and a new differential protection and temperature sensor system across the sandy wastelands, dunes and varied gravel stages of Tunisia.
"We continued our good start to the season after the Dakar Rally with first and second places in South America on what turned out to be a long and difficult rally," said MMSP Team Director Dominique Serieys. "Now we must maintain our consistency against much stronger competition in Tunisia. I am looking forward to renewing our battle with the Schlesser-Buggy and the VWs. It will be nice to witness the fight between the teams again in Africa. Our team is well motivated and prepared. It should be an exciting rally."
The Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart Team faces fierce competition across the sands of North Africa. The three team drivers line up against a strong international entry, which includes the factory Volkswagen Race-Touaregs of Spaniard Carlos Sainz and South Africa’s Giniel de Villiers and the two-wheel drive Buggy of Frenchman Jean-Louis Schlesser.
After scrutineering and documentation in Nice on the French Riviera on Friday, April 7th and Saturday, April 8th, the event gets underway with a timed Prologue stage, near Levens, on Sunday, April 9th. The entire field of bikes, cars, officials and support teams will then board a Mediterranean ferry bound for Tunis, before the event proceeds in Africa on Monday, April 10th with a non-competitive road liaison section between Tunis and the first overnight halt at Tataouine.
The first of seven desert selective sections takes place between Tataouine and Remada in the south of the country on Tuesday, April 11th and is followed by a Remada loop stage on Wednesday, April 12th. Competitive action continues on Thursday, April 13th with a tricky desert stage to the remote outpost at El Borma, near the Algerian frontier, in western Tunisia.
An El Borma loop stage on Good Friday is followed by a timed section to Ksar Ghilane on Easter Saturday and a loop stage around Ksar Ghilane on Easter Sunday (April 16th). The event draws to a conclusion on the holiday island of Djerba in eastern Tunisia, on Monday, April 17th, after a final selective section from the town of Ksar Ghilane.
- Florian Moser, Mitsubishi Motorsports -
photos copyright MMSP