Monte Carlo: Mitsubishi season opener preview

Mitsubishi Motors Back in Action in WRC - New team, new car take up FIA World Rally Championship challenge - Lancer WRC04 Tokyo, January 21, 2004 - The 72nd Rallye Monte Carlo (January 22-25) marks the debut competitive outing of the Mitsubishi...

Mitsubishi Motors Back in Action in WRC
- New team, new car take up FIA World Rally Championship challenge - Lancer WRC04

Tokyo, January 21, 2004 - The 72nd Rallye Monte Carlo (January 22-25) marks the debut competitive outing of the Mitsubishi Lancer WRC04 and the return of Mitsubishi Motors to the FIA World Rally Championship. Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports (MMSP) returns with a restructured team, headed up by Sven Quandt, an exciting driver line-up that mixes experience and youth, and an all-new world rally car to contest the 16-round series.

Mitsubishi Motors established MMSP in November 2002 to oversee its motor sports assault, including the FIA World Rally Championship and World Cup for Cross Country Rallies. The company is fresh from celebrating Mitsubishi Motors' fourth straight win in the Dakar Rally for a record-breaking nine overall victories. MMSP is inspired by the challenges ahead while remaining realistic that it will take time to return to its former glory days.

The opening round of the 2004 FIA World Rally Championship takes five manufacturer teams and a host of Junior World Rally Championship contenders to the tiny principality of Monaco for three days of competition in the French mountains. The event will continue to run under the old World Rally Championship regulations, namely a two-day recce and three-day rally, with a ceremonial start in Casino Square on Thursday evening. The route is almost identical to that run in 2003, with just a few changes made in the first and second legs. Monte Carlo is renowned as one of the most specialized events in the calendar where everything can prove to be a lottery; crews can come across anything from dry Tarmac, to wet roads, snow and ice, sometimes all in one stage, and tire choices and weather information play an absolutely critical role in the outcome.

The all-French crew of Gilles Panizzi and Herve Panizzi spearhead MMSP's assault this season, the rallying brothers making their debut competitive outing for the team in Monte Carlo. Gilles is considered to be the fastest driver in the world on asphalt, but even the sealed surface expert has yet to succeed in his own French mountains, such is the tricky nature of this season-opening event.

"I am very happy about the car, the engineering, the mechanics and the spirit in the team, but this car was only born in November and two months to prepare for a new season is not so much," commented Gilles. "We need more time; maybe one season before we become completely competitive. But I am very confident in the team, I like the car, the balance is good and we all work well together, but two months for the Monte Carlo...we are not ready yet; we have to be patient and we need time to improve."

Gianluigi Galli and Guido d' Amore will be piloting the second registered Lancer WRC04, Galli having contested the event on four previous occasions. The Italian has twice driven in two-liter machinery and his two outings in Mitsubishi's Lancer Evolution have resulted in a third position in Group N in 2000 and a retirement in 2002.

"I have done very little testing in the new car, but we managed a lot more kilometers in the 2002 specification car, which gave me a chance to try out different tire specifications," said Galli. "The car is very young and there is a lot of work to do, but I am happy to see the team is so motivated."

Commenting on their first event back in the FIA World Rally Championship, MMSP Team Manager Derek Dauncey said: "Mitsubishi has spent the last 12 months developing the new car, which is a complete evolution. In that time, we have also had a reorganization of the management team and an increase in engineering staff and we're now really looking forward to the first round of the series. Work on the car has been relentless for the last few months and we're looking at continuing the development in the first few events. It's good to be back."

After the ceremonial start on Thursday evening, the crews and teams will head directly from Monte Carlo to the French town of Gap, 340 kilometers to the northwest, and from where the rally action commences on Friday morning. Based around the Tallard aerodrome, the opening leg is the longest of the event and takes in a total of six stages and 144.13 competitive kilometers, before arriving back in Monte Carlo for the overnight halt on the harbor front. The second leg, on Saturday, takes the crews back to the roads of the Alpes Maritimes and the Nice hinterland and kicks off with a new 34.41 kilometer stage from Lantosque to Col de Braus. After a further four stages, all based around the service park in Monte Carlo, the crews arrive back in the principality having covered 140.79 competitive kilometers. Sunday's final leg covers some of the classics and is the shortest of the rally with just four stages and 104.40 competitive kilometers. The leading cars will arrive back in Monte Carlo at 14:30 hrs (GMT+1) having completed 15 treacherous special stages and 389.32 competitive kilometers over a total distance of 1,414.13 kilometers.


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Series WRC
Drivers Gilles Panizzi , Hervé Panizzi , Gianluigi Galli