Finland: Mitsubishi preview

Mitsubishi launches Lancer Evolution WRC2. The Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution WRC2 makes its competitive debut on one of the fastest and most spectacular rounds of the FIA World Rally Championship, Rally Finland (8-11 August). The launch of the ...

Mitsubishi launches Lancer Evolution WRC2.

The Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution WRC2 makes its competitive debut on one of the fastest and most spectacular rounds of the FIA World Rally Championship, Rally Finland (8-11 August). The launch of the second generation World Rally Car marks the culmination of months of development work by engineers in Japan and Rugby, England, and Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart will be fielding a three-car team in its bid to secure points in the Manufacturers' Championship. Regular team drivers François Delecour/Daniel Grataloup and Alister McRae/David Senior will be joined by Jani Paasonen/Arto Kapanen, the Finns adding vital local knowledge to the team's assault on this highly specialised event.

Finland, perceived by many as the home of rallying, provides the most spectacular action seen during the year. It is a technically challenging event requiring a driving style matched nowhere else in the world, and local experience has, in the past, proved the key to success. Wide and flowing roads on an almost Tarmac-like smooth gravel surface are combined with awesome jumps, famous the world over. With average speeds topping 130 kph, the challenge is enormous and the spectacle breathtaking. Centimetre precision is required to ensure the correct line through fast corners and over blind crests, immense bravery a significant factor as the crews race through stunning forest scenery and around the many lakes that gave the event its original name of the 1000 Lakes Rally. Testament to the challenge is the fact that just two non-Nordic drivers have won in over 50 years.

François Delecour has contested the event five times, fourth position his best result (1994), and the Frenchman has already had a taste of the Lancer Evolution WRC2 during asphalt development testing in France.

"The new car is a definite improvement, in many areas," said François. "The handling is better, with the car feeling more precise and stable, when cornering and braking. The car can be adjusted in mid-corner, using either the throttle or steering and it is also easier on the tyres, all of which means I have more confidence to push hard. The engine feels stronger, with more bottom and mid-range torque and it's also more responsive. I think, for sure, there is still more work to do but this is definitely a big step forward. I have only driven the car on asphalt but the feeling is good and I think that the improvements mean the car will also be better on gravel, when we get to Finland."

Team-mates Alister McRae and David Senior have however taken the challenge to the Scandinavian drivers and won the Formula 2 category in 1998. The British pair appear to have mastered the Finnish art, a string of top four finishes in the 2-Litre category complimented by a fine second in Group N (1994), a significant achievement in an event renowned for its strong entry of local Group N contenders.

"I really enjoy Finland," commented Alister. "The speed and challenge set by the Scandinavian drivers makes it a difficult rally, but I would say we go fairly well and winning Formula 2 on their home turf was satisfying. I have been testing the Evolution WRC2 in Finland this week and my first reaction is that it feels quicker. It's obviously difficult to tell by how much because we didn't have the step one car to compare, but it feels better in a lot of areas, in particular the engine, diffs and braking. The main difference with the engine is that it's more responsive at the bottom end, and slightly better at top end. The diffs are the same design but have a bigger capacity and control wheel spin better, especially over the front axle. And the braking is better because we have a stronger centre diff and larger brakes at the rear. For sure it's a step forward, but it would wrong to suddenly think we're going to be leading the field. Hopefully we're going to be a lot closer, it definitely feels like it, but by how much^Å who knows? It's so difficult to know until you're competing in rally conditions."

Jani Paasonen and Arto Kapanen will be contesting their third event for Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart this season, the Finnish pair demonstrating a hot pace in Sweden when they ran as high as fourth overall before hitting problems. Paasonen, who won the Production Car category in Finland en route to claiming the Group N Finnish Rally Championship in 2000, will significantly bolster Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart's assault, his knowledge and extensive local test in the Evolution WRC2 leaving him confident of a top result.

"I am very much looking forward to the event this year," said Jani. "We had a good test here and although I adjust the car very much, the feeling is now good. Many many places there is a very big step forward, in particular with the engine and all the transmission. The stages in the first two legs are old and I know them all very well, and while the ones in the final leg are new, they are okay for us too. The confidence is good and I think we will not be very far from winning some stages, but overall, against the competition, I think fifth or sixth. I try, I think this is possible."

Looking ahead to the event, Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart Team Director, John Easton said: "We are pleased with the progress we have made with the new car, even though we have concentrated on asphalt, where we felt the previous version required the most development. We will be starting the WRC2 program in Finland, even though the car is not as far developed for gravel as it is for asphalt. However, we still feel that we have made progress in terms of the car's competitiveness and combined with Jani's local knowledge, we hope to achieve a point-scoring result in Finland. After outings for the team in Sweden and Cyprus, we will be encouraging Jani to show his full potential here on his home event, drawing on the development work he has been involved in with the new car."

The 52nd Rally Finland is once again based in Jyvaskyla and kicks off with the start and a 2.06 kilometre super special stage on the evening of Thursday 8 August. The crews head into the forests on Friday morning however for nine special stages covering 128.61 competitive kilometres. The second leg is the longest of the three and while there are only six stages, the 176.65 competitive kilometre route includes some of the longest stages of the rally. The final day of competition includes two loops of three stages covering 94.36 kilometres. The Paviljonki centre will host Rally Headquarters, Parc Ferme and the Service Park for all three days. The 2002 Rally Finland covers a total of 22 special stages and 401.68 competitive kilometres in a total distance of 1,703.32 kilometres before the finish on the afternoon of Sunday 11 August.


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Series WRC
Drivers Daniel Grataloup , François Delecour , Alister McRae , Jani Paasonen , David Senior