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Optic Tunisia: Mitsubishi Team holds second, third and fifth place.

The Repsol Mitsubishi Team completed the opening four-kilometer ‘super special’ stage of the Optic 2000 Rally of Tunisia at Levens in second, third and fifth positions in the unofficial overall classification, today (Sunday). The traditional short opening section in the hills north of Nice was identical to the stage used in both 2004 and 2005 and kick-started the competitive action on this nine-day, second round of the FIA Marathonrally Worldcup.

The French pairing of Luc Alphand and Gilles Picard led the way for the Mitsubishi team in the first of three MPR12 versions of this year’s Dakar Rally-winning Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero Evolution. The winners of both January’s Dakar Rally and last month’s Por las Pampas Rally will now follow Spain’s stage-winning Carlos Sainz into the first African stage on Tuesday.

"The stage looked quite dangerous in the hills, but I had a good pace today," said Alphand. "I think that my hours behind the wheel in Argentina and Chile were important. Third would have been a perfect position for me to start on Tuesday, but looking positively there is no damage on the car this time. Last year I spun on this stage, so already I am in a better position than I was then and we went on to win last year..."

Japan’s Hiroshi Masuoka and French co-driver Pascal Maimon returned to competitive action together for the first time since their Dakar accident in Morocco and set the third fastest time. "It was nice to get back into the car and drive a stage," said Masuoka. "Today was good for the confidence and I am quite happy to be in this position after the accident in Dakar."

Stéphane Peterhansel and Jean-Paul Cottret were the first team into the stage today and set a cautious fifth fastest time. "We have been three months now without driving competitively," said Peterhansel. "I have not even tested a rally car and was not going to take any risks on this tight stage. Some of the surface rocks were very slippery. It was a case of making no mistakes. "Starting first car on the road is never easy. There were only motorcycles to sweep the loose gravel off the surface. I don’t think that the first stage in Tunisia will be too difficult in navigational terms, but I suppose I would have preferred to finish third or fourth today."

"I am quite happy to have our cars safely through this stage without any problems," said MMSP’s Team Director Dominique Serieys. "Now we can all look forward to meeting our rivals again on Tuesday."

"Luc has made a great start to this season with two important wins and it was good to see Stéphane and Hiroshi back behind the wheel here," said MMSP’s Team President Isao Torii. "I am confident that our team can keep up this winning run next week in Tunisia."

On Sunday afternoon the entire caravan of cars, bikes and support vehicles boarded the Danielle Casanova ferry for the Mediterranean sea crossing to Tunis. Monday’s timetable consists of disembarkation formalities in Tunisia and a 540 km road transfer from Port de la Goulette, near Tunis, to the first overnight halt at Ras El Oued in the Tatouine region.

Competitive action gets underway on Tuesday morning when the Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart Team tackles a varied 288 km selective section between Ras El Oued and the second overnight halt at Nekrif. The event finishes in Djerba, Tunisia, on Monday, April 17th.

2006/04/10 I 12:50 CET I Editor:

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