LENOBLE, SCHLESSER AND JACINTO START THE YEAR WELL

Although race director Rene Metge delayed the start of the fifth stage by an hour the New Year's Eve party was pretty quiet at the bivouac of Assa. But starting 2012 the way they mean to go on were André Lenoble in the bikes, Jean Louis Schlesser in the car class and truck Elisabete Jacinto in the trick category who all won their classes on today's fourth special.

Norbert Dubois got to the finish furious with himself for making a navigation error that cost him more than 40 minutes... but luckily he didn't loose out in the overall standings as his rival Oscar Polli followed him down the wrong track. As a result, the error of the two race leaders allowed some less prominent riders to take centre stage. First was André Lenoble, who explained that his Yamaha 450 WRF runs on Bio Ethanol and is equipped with photovoltaic cells, so a green bike on the top step today. Xavier Moreau also made a slight navigational mistake and added a dozen miles to his journey, but still got to the end in 2nd, while after a tough day yesterday Nimes Joseph Palacios finished third, 19'27'' behind the leader. Despite their difficulties Dubois and Polli still retain the top two places overall.

Jean Louis Schlesser was all smiles as he got out of his Sonangol Schlesser Buggy as he started the year with an easy win and has noticed an improvement with his new co-driver Cyril Esquirol. The only regret was not being able to get passed the MD Buggy Rally of Régis Delahaye, which he caught 80km before the finish.

Régis Delahaye was pleased with his second place and with the route that Rene Metge had laid out. In contrast though, in only sixth place, Jacky Loomans explained his below-par performance was due to the lack of grip in the tires of his Pick Up Overdrive. But as is often the case, the misfortune of one is he happiness of others and the Russians Sergey Savenko and Denis Maltsev took third in their Acyra Diesel Buggy, ahead of the CRD of Turron-Michel Barrere and Didier Haquette.

Today also saw a strong performance from the Tunisians Salim Kamoun and Sofiane Driss. Finishing in 18th place they won the class for vehicles with 2 solid axles. First in the T2 class for production based cars are Belgians Gregoor Bouwens and Hans de Pauw in their Land Cruiser while Thierry Maurin and Daniel Vermeloux took the T3 SSV class honours in their new Polaris RZR 900.

In the truck class, first to the finish line was Elisabete Jacinto at the wheel of her MAN who was pleased to put yesterday's troubles behind her. The Portugese driver with her two co-drivers José Marques and Marco Cochinho caught up with the TATRA of  Tomas Tomecek and Vojtech Moravek... but it took nearly 100km before they could find a way past. The Czechs though still lead the heavy-wieght class and are in 4th overall.

Tomorrow the Sonangol Africa Eco Race continues its southward march towards Dakhla. The 777 km in total will be the longest of the race with 376 km of special stages and a 348 km liasion. A long stage with a lot of navigation before the rest day on the Atlantic Ocean.

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