The Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports WRC team has enjoyed the most consistent and successful two days of the season during the opening two legs of Rally Japan, the teamâ€™s home event and the 13th round of the FIA World Rally Championship. Both ...
The Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports WRC team has enjoyed the most consistent and successful two days of the season during the opening two legs of Rally Japan, the team’s home event and the 13th round of the FIA World Rally Championship. Both “Gigi” Galli/Guido d’Amore and Harri Rovanperä/Risto Pietiläinen have performed faultlessly and the Lancer WRC05 crews hold fourth and fifth positions respectfully going into the final leg. Gilles and Hervé Panizzi have increased their confidence and maintain 13th position.
“I am very happy, today’s result is excellent for Gigi and Harri and we had no major technical problems with any of the three cars,” commented Isao Torii, Head of Mitsubishi Motor Sports. “Tomorrow I hope to keep smiling…”
The second leg of Rally Japan was centered on the town of Ashoro and although shorter, it still covered 12 stages, none of which was longer than 16.25 kilometers. The morning took in five stages, all of which were repeated this afternoon before the leg was rounded off with another run through the Satsunai super special.
Harri Rovanperä has been on a charge from the outset and the Finn set fastest time in the opening stage of the leg - his second scratch time of the event - to close the gap to Subaru’s Chris Atkinson. Second fastest in the following stage brought Harri to within 0.8 seconds of fourth position and after SS12 - where rain made conditions very slippery - the Mitsubishi Lancer WRC05 driver had overhauled the Australian to claim fourth position behind the leading trio of FIA WRC contenders. During this afternoon’s stages the Finn was never outside the top five, except in the penultimate test when spotlight failure caused him to lose time as darkness fell. He once again set fastest time in the final super special, however, repeating last night’s achievement, and overnights just behind Galli in fifth position.
“Today has been a good day, but losing the spot lamps was very frustrating,” said Harri, who is celebrating his son’s fifth birthday, long distance. “We had the fog and main lights, but this means nothing in the type of conditions we are talking about. In the open sections of the stage it was reasonably okay, but the minute you get under the trees and into the mud it is very difficult. But, overall we have to be very happy with the performance.”
Team-mate Gigi Galli has been equally impressive and, despite a slow start in the first stage, the Italian was fifth fastest in SS11 and claimed second in the following two stages to marginally extend his lead over Citroën’s François Duval. A fast pace saw the Italian ultimately overhaul Subaru’s Chris Atkinson to climb into fifth position but a furious battle ensued to ensure the Italian maintained his position ahead of a charging François Duval. Two second fastest times aided his challenge and in the penultimate stage Gigi ended up trading position with Harri - despite his own spot light problems - to overnight in fourth in the lead Lancer WRC05.
“Today has been another very long day, tiring, but very satisfying at the end and I am happy,” said Gigi. “To be honest I have never, ever, seen such tricky stages in my life. We had a similar problem to Harri with the lights, but still had two lamps working so it was slightly easier for us. This morning I didn’t want to take more risks than necessary; the event is already difficult enough, there is no point risking more. Tomorrow we’ll continue to push, but only at the pace I am comfortable.”
Gilles Panizzi continues to improve, although the Frenchman maintains his 13th position, having experienced tire problems before the start of SS17. “We made some modifications to the shock absorbers at lunchtime and for me the feeling is the best of the weekend, so we won’t be making any major changes,” said Gilles. “The support for the rally along the road sections today has been amazing; at each set of red traffic lights I’ve been signing about 10-15 autographs!”
Adding to the drivers’ comments, Yasuo Tanaka, Technical Director said: “Today has been very good, we are very happy. The penultimate stage we had some problems with the lamps, but our drivers coped in difficult conditions and we are here in good positions. Harri and Gigi have made fantastic drives today. Gilles is still gaining confidence, and we will try other settings again tomorrow.”
Sunday’s shortest leg, near Shintoku and to the north-west of Obihiro, takes in five stages and 85.94 competitive kilometers, again based around the central service area at Kita Aikoku, before the finish back in Obihiro at 15:00 hrs (local).
News from our rivals
Petter Solberg continues to lead Subaru’s home rally and the Norwegian takes a 32.3 second lead into the final leg as he bids to claim a second successive Rally Japan victory. Marcus Grönholm overhauled Sébastien Loeb however the Frenchman will be unconcerned about third position in Japan, being that this is all he requires to win the championship. The battle behind the leading trio has been close-fought throughout the day however, with Rovanperä, Galli, Duval and Atkinson all split by mere seconds. Behind this intense battle, Toni Gardemeister is over a minute adrift as he leads Ford’s assault in eighth position. Team-mate Roman Kresta lies ninth with Daniel Carlsson - stepping in for Markko Märtin - rounding off the top 10.