PROVISIONAL PODIUM FOR MITSUBISHI WRC TEAM
Rovanpera 3rd going into final leg after three fastest stage times; Galli fifth overall
The Mitsubishi Motorsport WRC team looks set to round off the 2005 FIA World Rally Championship season on a high note, following fierce battles and a potential podium position at the end of the second leg of Rally Australia. Harri Rovanpera and Risto Pietilainen have been on great form, the Finns claiming three fastest stage times to take an overnight third position. Team-mates "Gigi" Galli and Guido d'Amore climbed to fourth during the day, but slipped to fifth in the final forestry stage after losing time with an overshoot.
Today's action took in some of the most spectacular of the season. Heading south-west of Perth, the crews contested the Bannister stages, formerly known as the Bunnings complex. Here, high-speed roller-coaster stages launch cars meters into the air and the famous watersplash is another favorite with the fans who flock to this pine plantation. In total, the leg took in nine stages and 122.15 competitive kilometers, with the action rounded off back at the Gloucester Park super special this evening.
While Harri had a trouble-free run this morning, the day started off in bizarre fashion when a kangaroo jumped into the side of the car in the first stage. The Lancer WRC05 only sustained panel damage, but the crew was forced to tie-wrap the door shut and tape round the seals with stickers pulled off the car to restrict the amount of dust entering. Having recovered from the incident, Harri and Risto then went on to set fastest time in the following two stages (SS 13/SS 14) to climb to second, and second-fastest in SS 15 to maintain position. In the final stage before the mid-leg service, the crew lost time with a spin, dropping them back to third but a mere 4.8 seconds behind Colin McRae and with current leader Francois Duval still within striking distance.
This afternoon, the battle between Rovanpera and McRae continued, but the Scot kept the advantage despite some top times by the Lancer WRC05 driver and another fastest stage time at the super special.
"It was a big kangaroo, like a horse!" said Harri. "A few kilometers into the stage, at top speed, the kangaroo jumped into the side of the car. The lock broke and the door flew open and we had to complete the rest of the stage like this. It's the worst place in the world for this to happen, with the amount of dust coming into the car. I'm feeling very confident and good with the car though, and the set-up of the suspension, so tomorrow we'll continue pushing hard and see what happens".
Gigi Galli also had a trouble-free morning and was never outside the top seven, despite having never contested these stages before. In a close-fought battle with Citroen driver Manfred Stohl, the Italian ultimately overhauled the Austrian in SS16 to claim fourth overall after setting second-fastest time. They were narrowly beaten by Stohl in SS17 and, with such a small gap between the two rivals, Gigi slipped to fifth. And then, in the final forestry stage this afternoon, a pace note error saw the crew overshoot a corner and have two small spins. They were however fortunate to maintain position, such was the gap to sixth-placed Christopher Atkinson.
"We're lucky to be here after the overshoot; it must have been the only corner in Australia without a tree", said Gigi. "After that I lost my rhythm and we dropped more than 40 seconds, but fortunately not any positions. Overall though, the day has been good, especially as today's stages were all new to me".
Commenting on the day's action, Isao Torii, Head of Mitsubishi Motorsport, said: "Overall it has been a good day for us and our best scenario is Harri second and Gigi fourth, but both crews made a small mistake. But still, they are in good position. Tomorrow, nobody knows what will happen; there is still another tricky day ahead with a lot of kilometers, but our goal is the podium certainly".
Added Roger Estrada, Principal Rally Engineer: "It's been a very good day and the crews performed well in these Bannister stages. We've had no technical problems and good reliability, and we're in a good position to push tomorrow".
The final leg of Rally Australia is the shortest at 103.32 competitive kilometers but still takes in two loops of three identical stages. The route takes the crews to the east of Perth and returns to the city for the finish at 14:45 hrs (local).
News from our rivals
Following the retirement of Petter Solberg - who was forced out when a kangaroo jumped onto the road in front of his Subaru causing extensive damage to the cooling system - Francois Duval takes tonight's advantage and leads by 27.1 seconds. Colin McRae and Harri Rovanpera have battled throughout the leg, but McRae takes a close second overnight, despite a gearshift problem early this morning. Christopher Atkinson has powered up the leaderboard from 10th to sixth in the remaining Subaru, while Roman Kresta is piloting the lead Ford Focus in its debut competitive outing. Team-mate Toni Gardemeister lost power when the Focus dropped onto three cylinders this morning. He overnights in eighth position in a leg characterized by very close competition.
MITSUBISHI LANCER EVOLUTION DRIVERS CONTINUE GOOD RUN IN RALLY AUSTRALIA
Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution drivers continued a solid run on day two of Telstra Rally Australia, with lead FIA PWRC driver Fumio Nutahara winning two of the day's stages and defending his position to close the leg in fifth position in both the PWRC and Group N classification.
The second day of the rally took competitors to the jumps and water splash-ridden stages of the Bannister complex south of the city for some stunning action under the vast blue Australian skies, before returning to Gloucester Park for a final two runs around the super special stage.
PWRC regular Nutahara stepped up his pace to pull himself up to fourth by the middle of the day, but fellow series competitor Gabriel Pozzo eventually snatched fourth position with the Japanese retaining his previous overnight position by the end of today.
After a hard day of competition, Nutahara said: "For me today is more difficult than yesterday as the roads are very slippery, especially on the first two groups of stages this morning. This afternoon we put more cuts in the tires which was much better. I'm pushing much harder than yesterday but I know that I can go faster. Tomorrow I will push as hard as possible as I am still confident we can take a podium finish."
PWRC Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution driver Federico Villagra enjoyed the second day of the rally and, despite claiming to be driving for experience alone on his first outing in Australia, the Argentine is on course to score points towards the FIA Production Car World Rally Championship, having defended his seventh place throughout the day.
"I have really enjoyed driving today. We've had no problems and the tires are much better after making more cuts in them," explained Villagra. "I think the stages today are a bit easier than yesterday but the most important thing for me is to finish the rally with a good set of pace notes as experience for next year, but at least I'm having fun doing that!"
Other Lancer Evolution drivers competing for points are Italians Fabio Frisiero and Riccardo Errani. Both performed better today and both successfully held on to their eighth and ninth places respectively.
"I made a wrong tire choice this morning but after raising the suspension and taking softer tires this afternoon, the car was great," explained a buoyed Frisiero. "But I am not taking any risks as this is only my second time here; these roads are very specialized and, personally, I think you need a lot of experience to be able to take risks successfully so I'm just taking it at my own speed."
Leg three takes crews east of Perth for the final 103.32 kilometers of competition, featuring two identical loops of three stages, before returning to the Perth podium finish at 14:45 hrs (local).