ROVANPERA & MITSUBISHI LANCER WRC05 2nd OVERALL!
Rovanpera claims five fastest stage times; Galli finishes fifth
The Mitsubishi Motorsport crew of Harri Rovanpera and Risto Pietilainen claimed the team's best result of the season today when they finished on the podium in second position. The Finns claimed five fastest stage times during the three-day event, demonstrating the increased performance of the Lancer WRC05. Team-mates "Gigi" Galli and Guido d'Amore finished a fine fifth in only their second outing in Rally Australia.
The final leg of Rally Australia was the shortest at 103.32 competitive kilometers. However, the route still took in two loops of three identical stages and with battles throughout the top of the leaderboard, action was always guaranteed to be fast and furious. The stages have been as tricky as ever, with all the crews reporting unbelievably slippery conditions on the fast and flowing roads.
Harri Rovanpera started the day in third but in the first stage he reduced the gap to Colin McRae to just 3.5 seconds. Then, in the longest stage of the event (Helena North), the Finn powered ahead of his rival to claim a 4.7 second advantage in the Mitsubishi Lancer WRC05. Consolidating the position in the last of these three stages, Harri beat rally leader, Citroen's Francois Duval, and a charging Chris Atkinson in the Subaru Impreza, to claim another fastest stage time. Harri and Risto returned to the mid-leg service with a 6.9 second advantage going into the final three stages. However, the task ahead was made much easier when what should have been a routine clutch change on McRae's Skoda saw the crew go over the time permitted. So, even though the pressure was off the Mitsubishi Lancer WRC05 crew, they still had three stages to complete without mistakes before returning to Perth in a fantastic second position.
"I am very very happy for the whole team", said a delighted Harri, "and especially for all the mechanics who have worked so hard since the beginning of the season. It's been a great rally for us; the car has worked well, the performance and speed has been good and the feeling has been right all weekend. It's a great way to round off the year".
Gigi Galli, who had climbed as high as fourth yesterday, slipped from fifth to seventh this morning. The Italian had no problems, but was once again tackling stages for the first time and intent on finishing the rally without incident. This afternoon however he still had to continue defending his position from a charging Roman Kresta and, following the retirements of McRae and Toni Gardemeister, the crew claimed fifth overall.
"It's been a really really tough rally", said Gigi. "Now I can see and believe why it's so important to have experience of this event with the surface, pace notes, speed; everything that makes a difference to your performance. I have to keep in mind our goal was to finish, but fifth is a good position for us".
Isao Torii, Head of Mitsubishi Motorsport said: "Finally, a great rally! I am very pleased and so proud of our team; thank you very much to Harri, Risto and everyone. The first and last rally of the season we achieved a podium position and this leads us into next year in a very positive way; a very big thank you. Gigi also kept our team orders and finished in fifth position, which is very good".
Adding to their comments, Roger Estrada, Principal Rally Engineer said: "I'm very pleased; this podium is the result of a fantastic team effort. The cars have run extremely reliably all weekend and it's a big confidence boost for our 2006 campaign. Congratulations to Harri, Risto, Gigi and Guido for their performance on this rally and it's a great gift, from the team, to Andrew (Cowan) on his last event".
Rally Australia closed the 2005 FIA World Rally Championship season and although the crews don't return to competitive action until Rallye Monte-Carlo, in January 2006, teams will now start a hectic round of test and development work for next season.
News from our rivals
Francois Duval claimed the first FIA WRC victory of his career today, the Citroen Xsara WRC driver finishing in Perth with a winning margin of 52.9 seconds. Behind Rovanpera in second was the private entry of Manfred Stohl, the Austrian a further 40 seconds behind the Finn. Chris Atkinson put in a great performance to climb from 13th to fourth by the finish and, behind Gigi Galli, Roman Kresta scored more points for Ford with the all-new Ford Focus RS WRC 06. The most heart-wrenching retirement of the day was that of Colin McRae from second position, and then Toni Gardemeister also retired from fifth, the Finn advised to stop when the water temperatures rocketed in the Ford Focus RS WRC 06.
FOURTH IN AUSTRALIA FOR MITSUBISHI LANCER EVOLUTION DRIVER NUTAHARA
Lead FIA PWRC Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution driver Fumio Nutahara stepped up his pace on the final day of Telstra Rally Australia, narrowly missing out on a podium finish to end the rally in fourth position in both the PWRC and overall Group N classification.
The third and final day of the rally took competitors east of Perth for the closing 103.32 competitive kilometers, featuring two identical loops of three stages and some fantastic competition to close the last round of the 2005 PWRC.
On an eventful rally, many PWRC crews hit problems as the unforgiving stages penalized anyone who ventured even the slightest bit off line. But Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution favorite Nutahara drove a perfect rally with no mistakes, rewarding him with five points to add to his total, to finish fifth overall in the FIA Production Car World Rally Championship driver standings.
"The car has an even better feeling today as we took a softer compound tire", commented the six-time All Japan Rally Championship winner. "Unfortunately we had a slow puncture and we overshot a junction this morning but we managed to stay on the pace. This afternoon has been fine and although a podium would have been good, I am happy with fourth and this is the highest we have finished in the PWRC".
Lancer Evolution driver Federico Villagra enjoyed his first taste of Australian roads and with the exception of a few brake issues on the first day, the Argentine drove a trouble-free event to finish his debut PWRC season on a high, taking three points in the process for his sixth place finish.
"This is my first time here and I have really enjoyed the rally. It's incredibly difficult but I came here with a plan to finish the event to gain experience and to prepare some good pace notes for next year, and we have achieved both", explained three-time Argentine champion Villagra. "This is my first year in PWRC so all the rallies except Argentina were new to me. The level of competition has been very high this year but we have scored some points so I'm very happy".
Italians Fabio Frisiero and Riccardo Errani were also competing for PWRC points and both finished confidently in seventh and eighth place respectively. After an enjoyable rally, Frisiero said: "Today has been fine and we haven't had any problems so I was just enjoying it. I'm disappointed for Aki [Teiskonen] who retired this morning but it means we scored another point. At the beginning of the season I would have paid to score just five points and now I am incredibly happy as we have finished the season with 17 - I can't believe it!"
Errani's event was a little more difficult than his fellow Lancer drivers but the Italian was happy to take home a point. "For me it was important to finish and we have done everything we needed to to do that. It has been a very difficult rally but I'm happy with our performance here".
The first round of the 2006 FIA Production Car World Rally Championship is scheduled to be Rallye Monte-Carlo running from January 20-22.