ROVANPERA 7th OVERALL IN THE MITSUBISHI LANCER WRC05 Panizzi scores fourth fastest stage time RovanperÃ¤ and Panizzi 7th and 11th overnight After the opening leg of the 2005 Corona Rally MÃ©xico, the Finnish Mitsubishi Lancer WRC05 crews of ...
ROVANPERA 7th OVERALL IN THE MITSUBISHI LANCER WRC05
Panizzi scores fourth fastest stage time
Rovanperä and Panizzi 7th and 11th overnight
After the opening leg of the 2005 Corona Rally México, the Finnish Mitsubishi Lancer WRC05 crews of Harri Rovanperä and Risto Pietiläinen lie in seventh position and team-mates Gilles Panizzi and Hervé Panizzi hold 11th position in the second Lancer WRC05, after a challenging day in the Mexican mountains.
Historic Guanajuato played host to a spirited ceremonial start last night, however crews left the León service park for two loops of three identical stages and 146.84 kilometers of competition, the middle stage of each group reaching the highest altitude of the rally at 2,736 meters.
Overcast skies in León greeted crews but the sunshine soon broke through, with temperatures reaching a pleasant 26 degrees.
Mitsubishi crews had a mixed day on leg one of the first gravel event of the season, with both Panizzi and Rovanperä commenting that the rear of the car was moving around, too soft and difficult to control.
As Rally México is the first full gravel rally for the Mitsubishi Lancer WRC05, it is also a learning event for the team who are running a new active differential system here for the first time.
"This morning, Gilles' three punctures during the day were unlucky but our performance has improved a lot from last year", said Isao Torii, President of Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports. "We are learning what we have to do for the upcoming gravel events and we have to accelerate our improvement as we have six more consecutive gravel rallies after México, but we are learning a lot here already".
Harri Rovanperä worked his way up from this morning's ninth position to seventh overall, despite complaining of difficult handling, although brake problems on the long downhill section of stage two hindered competitive progress.
"This morning my brake pedal went soft but actually everybody had problems with brakes on the same stages", said Harri. "We hardened the damper settings during the service today and after that the car handled much better and we had less movement but with that, we had a little less grip too. I think for tomorrow we will stay with the same settings as this afternoon and I will push a bit harder".
A puncture on the opening stage of the day pulled team-mate Panizzi's time back slightly but his confidence was no less and he continued to set a sixth and fourth fastest time on the stages following respectively, allowing the Frenchman to reach the mid-leg service in sixth position. The afternoon was more difficult for Panizzi as more punctures prevented him from setting more competitive times, causing a spin on the final stage and losing 37 seconds.
"This afternoon was even more difficult than this morning but we had some problems", commented Gilles. "We had two more punctures in stages four and five and then in the last stage the punctures caused us to spin. I think the settings we had this morning were better so maybe we will go back to that for tomorrow".
Adding to the drivers' comments, the team's Technical Director Mario Fornaris said: "Both drivers mentioned that car was soft this morning so we hardened the damper settings, both front and rear on both cars, before the stages this afternoon. Harri preferred it this way and Gilles performed better this morning. But if you look at the times we are actually only 0.5 seconds a kilometer off the pace of the fastest car which is not so different from our performance in Monte and Sweden. If Gilles had not had punctures today, he would be two or three places higher so I'm actually quite happy with the cars' performance".
Lancer drivers German Michael Kahlfuss and Mexicans Carlos Tejada and Erwin Richter hold the top three positions in the Group N category at the end of leg one.
Erwin Richter actually retired during stage five but he is able to start leg two under the revised restart rules and therefore keeps hold of his third place for today's leg. Local hero Erwin Richter retired at the end of stage four with mechanical problems.
The second leg of Corona Rally México covers another six stages, comprising two loops of three stages in the mountains north and east of León. In total, 146.84 competitive kilometers lie in wait, exactly the same distance as on leg one, over a total distance of 218.54 kilometers. While stages to not reach altitudes as high as those on leg one, the average height of the leg two stages is still 2284 meters.
News from our rivals...
Sweden victor Petter Solberg set the pace from the start in his new Subaru Impreza WRC2005 and leads Marcus Grönholm by 20.5 seconds. Winner of 2004 Rally México Markko Märtin lies in third with his former team-mate François Duval in fourth. Subaru youngster Chris Atkinson, on only his second outing in a world rally car, lies fifth while Roman Kresta leads the Ford crews in sixth ahead of Harri Rovanperä in seventh. The only lead retirement today is Jani Paasonen who crashed his Skoda Octavia early in the day. Others have not been without their problems; reigning World Champion Sébastien Loeb damaged his rear right damper on SS1, dropping almost four minutes before the mid-leg service, at which he arrived on three wheels. The Frenchman then incurred a 20 sec penalty after leaving service late. Almost all lead drivers complained of brake problems in the first loop of stages, while Ford's Toni Gardemeister went off the road and team-mate Roman Kresta dropped time with a puncture.