DESPRES AND LAVIEILLE WINNERS OF THE ‘SEMI-MARATHON’…

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The first half of the marathon stage, between Derj and Oubari, at 563 kilometres the longest of the rally, saw victory go to Christian Lavieille aboard his Proto Dessoude and Cyril Despres astride his KTM. The overall leaders of this particularly hard special remain unchanged. In the cars Orlando Terranova leads Christian Lavieille and Guerlain Chicheit while Marc Coma advances Cyril Despres by 4 minutes. In the 450 class Luca Manca wins the day’s stage and takes the overall lead off Bruno Da Costa, while Olivier Pain losses more than one hour.

The first part of this marathon stage finishes this evening at Oubari with a bivouac ‘without assistance’. The vehicles are placed in parc ferme and only the competitors are allowed to repair their machines and full them with fuel. The special was tough, typically African and real ‘rally-raid’, mixing dune crossings and navigation, especially over the ergs of the last part of the day. The average speeds were relatively low while the gaps have increased substantially, especially on four wheels.

On the bikes Cyril Despres pulls back 4 minutes on Marc Coma, who finishing third today won’t have to open the piste tomorrow… Pal Anders Ullevaseter stayed close to the Frenchman, finishing second at 2’30. Lopez and Casteu were more than 10 minutes behind. It was a tough day for the bike riders with a number of crashes. Ludovic Boinnard, David Casteu’s team mate, hurt his leg and was evacuated by helicopter. The Pole Jakub Przygonski, 5th overall yesterday, went out with mechanical problems. In the 450 class Luca Manca takes the lead after having posted the fastest time of the day. The second half of this marthan stage sees the longest special of the rally being followed by the ‘sandiest’ and almost certainly the most scenic.

In the cars Christian Lavielle created the surprise of the day by finishing ahead of the BMWs on a terrain which apparently suited the Proto Dessoude down to the ground. Despite a puncture and getting stuck in the sand, the Frenchman won the special in the face of stiff competition. Pascal Thomasse, second today, also put in a fine performance at the wheel of his MD Buggy. The three BMWs of Terranova, Chicherit and Novitskiy followed, but the Russian was 44 minutes back with Jean-Louis Schlesser more than 56 minutes behind. At 18h30 only 12 cars had crossed the finishing line…

Among the day’s ‘victims’ – Nicolas Misslin, who managed to repair his broken gearbox and arrive in Oubari. Eric Vigouroux who lost considerable time, spending two hours at CP2 fixing an oil pipe and a broken alternator before finally making it to the finish. Over the tricky route the dunes, and more particularly the landings the other side, caused a number of surprises notably: Francois Lethier (2nd yesterday in T2), Francois Borsotto, Rodolphe Deveaux’s co-driver in his Mitsubishi MPR13 and Eric Leblanc, Joseph Rosso’s co-driver in his Nissan Pathfinder, all three of whom are suffering from back pain and being looked after by the rally’s medical team.

Notable performance from the Tunisian Ludovic Leloup, who driving alone in his Toyota, finished the special in 8th place!

Tomorrow, the second half of the marathon stage, 308 kilometres to reach the bivouac in Brack. A 90% sand special over which the navigators will have their work cut out finding the 6 lakes hidden away in a sea of yellow. Another tough day, over which competitors will have to nurse their machines safely towards their assistance crews.

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