The Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports WRC team is ready for action on home territory and its three Lancer WRC05 crews are focused on a top result in Rally Japan - its most important round of the FIA World Rally Championship. Harri Rovanpera/Risto ...
The Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports WRC team is ready for action on home territory and its three Lancer WRC05 crews are focused on a top result in Rally Japan - its most important round of the FIA World Rally Championship. Harri Rovanpera/Risto Pietilainen and Gilles/Herve Panizzi are piloting the two registered Mitsubishi Lancer WRC05s, while "Gigi" Galli/Guido d'Amore are driving a third factory-supported car on the only FIA WRC event hosted in Asia. Competing for the first time in its home event, the significance of Mitsubishi's three-car entry is enormous.
Following today's final shakedown - run in hot conditions - the three crews are ready to tackle the 26 stages that comprise this year's Rally Japan. Harri Rovanpera, who leads the team assault, is the team's only driver to have previously contested the event and while he finished in the top six last year, the Finn is under no illusion that Rally Japan is any easier to conquer.
"It's great to be in Japan; we have been waiting for the start of this rally for nine months," said Harri. "Shakedown was good for us and I really hope the feeling during the rally can be the same. I don't feel extra pressure, even though it is the most important rally for Mitsubishi; we try our best always, but I do feel very confident we can do something good this weekend; hopefully even a podium. The car and our performance gets better and better all the time and it would be special for us to make a very good result here. Tires are going to be very important too, as maybe the conditions will become cloudier, colder and even with some rain, but I hope we can make everything work for us."
Gilles Panizzi, making his first competitive return to the team since the Cyprus Rally, is back in action having undertaken test duties for the team in recent months. "For sure it is not so easy for me because I have not done this rally before and I must learn everything quickly," said Gilles. "But we really try our hardest for Mitsubishi and the fans, but I don't think it will be possible to go maximum tomorrow. We must ease ourselves into the pace and increase our performance each day to make sure we can try and get a good result for the team. The weather could be a big factor for the tires, but the situation will be the same for everyone, so we will see."
"Gigi" Galli, driving a third factory-supported Lancer WRC05, will also be easing himself into the pace but the Italian has high hopes of a top result for Mitsubishi.
"There are already lots of fans around, both for us and the rally; that is good for the whole team," said Gigi. "We had a good shakedown and hopefully everything will work well for us. We are ready with three cars and it would be nice to give something good to the fans. There is always pressure on every rally, every time I jump into the car, but I try to stay concentrated and give the best of myself. I think we are the most prepared we can be."
Adding to the drivers comments, Yasuo Tanaka, the team's Technical Director, said: "We are well prepared for the rally and I feel confident we can make a good performance."
The team's preparations for its home event have been a hectic affair and the Mitsubishi welcome party last night drew more than 450 people, including the team's six drivers and co-drivers as well as a host of Japanese Mitsubishi Group N crews. During today's shakedown the team also entertained Shuzo Matsuoka and the former Davis Cup tennis player was also treated to a spectacular high-speed ride alongside Harri Rovanpera in the Lancer WRC05.
Rally Japan kicks off this evening with a ceremonial start in Central Obihiro, where tens of thousands of fans are once again anticipated to cheer on their heroes. Half-mast flags, as a mark of respect to Michael 'Beef' Park, will then be raised with the playing of the national anthem and the passage of the first car over the start ramp. Mr. Osamu Masuko, the President of Mitsubishi Motors Corporation, will also be in attendance to cheer on all the Mitsubishi crews. The opening leg of competition, on Friday, however, is when the real action begins and it will be no easy first day for the 90 entrants. The route takes the crews north of the town of Rikubetsu and is notable for its two runs over the ultra-long Kunneywa-Niueo forestry stage, as well as two runs through one of the shortest stages, the 2.73 kilometer spectator stage which uses part of the Rikubetsu Circuit. In total, the leg takes in nine stages and 163.26 competitive kilometers.