Rally Australia: Mitsubishi leg one summary

POSITIVE OPENING LEG FOR MITSUBISHI WRC TEAM Rovanpera 4th and Galli 6th in Mitsubishi Lancer WRC05s The Mitsubishi Motorsport WRC team enjoyed a positive opening leg of Rally Australia, the final round of the FIA World Rally Championship.

Rovanpera 4th and Galli 6th in Mitsubishi Lancer WRC05s

The Mitsubishi Motorsport WRC team enjoyed a positive opening leg of Rally Australia, the final round of the FIA World Rally Championship. Harri Rovanpera and Risto Pietilainen hold a fine fourth overall in the lead Lancer WRC05, while team-mates "Gigi" Galli and Guido d'Amore are sixth overnight.

The start of the event was marked by the first running of Perth's super special stage at Gloucester Park last night, the 2.35 kilometer crowd-pleasing stage run twice for the entertainment of thousands of cheering fans. Today, however, the crews headed south for the first full day of competition in the forests before returning to the city for another two runs around the super special stage. As ever, the roads proved tricky and were littered with loose gravel, making position on the road an important factor.

Harri Rovanpera has had a steady run throughout the leg, the Finn upping the pace this afternoon to maintain a closely-fought fifth position. The Mitsubishi Lancer WRC05 crew then moved into fourth after SS9 and, after setting fastest time in the final stage of the day, are less than 20 seconds adrift of second position.

"It's been a long day and I've been trying to understand our new damper set-up," said Harri. "When the roads are fast, smooth and flowing, it's very good, but also I feel the grip level is not always so great. I really pushed in the last two forest stages and SS8 felt very good. We've had no technical problems and hopefully we can maintain the pace tomorrow."

Team-mate Gigi Galli held eighth position at the mid-leg service after suffering a minor misfire during this morning's stages but has moved up into sixth position, again within striking distance of his rivals.

"It's a good start for us and I'm feeling happy with the set-up of the car," said Gigi. "I have to say we had some problems this morning with the engine misfire and then we hit something and damaged the steering. This afternoon has been fine, although we had a big moment in SS7 with the pace notes. Tires have been good, although we're still learning about Pirelli's evolution tire."

Said Isao Torii, Head of Mitsubishi Motorsport: "It is going nearly as we expected. Between second and sixth position it is very close, and we have two cars in that group. It's been a good day and both crews have done a good job. Tomorrow is another tough day over very slippery roads and I hope we can maintain our performance and keep some good luck."

Adding to the comments, Principal Rally Engineer Roger Estrada said: "It's been a positive day and the cars have been very reliable. Gigi had a small problem this morning but it didn't really affect his times too much. We have good positions at the end of the leg and the drivers seem confident and happy. We took a gamble on tires at times and went softer than recommended, but all in all we're pleased."

Saturday's leg takes the contenders to the south-west of Perth for the Bannister stages, formerly known as the Bunnings complex. These roller-coaster roads are famous the world-over and provide some of the season's most spectacular action. In total, the leg takes in nine stages and 122.15 competitive kilometers, with the action rounded off back at the Gloucester Park super special in Perth.

News from our rivals

Petter Solberg takes the overnight lead after dicing with Sebastien Loeb throughout the afternoon. However, the most uncharacteristic result of the day is the retirement of Sebastien Loeb, the Frenchman hitting a tree when he went off the road. Francois Duval moved into second in the final two super special stages, overhauling Colin McRae in his second one-off drive for Skoda this season. Many have suffered through the leg. Subaru's Christopher Atkinson had to contend with bent steering in SS 6 and SS 7 and, from leading the rally, the Australian has dropped to 10th. Peugeot end the season and its time in the FIA WRC on a disappointing note. Daniel Carlsson was the first to go off the road and team-mate Marcus Gronholm, with a suspension problem, also went off. Both retired. Xavier Pons, in a privately-run Citroen, was been forced out with a damaged radiator following an accident and Antony Warmbold rolled in SS 6, again retiring.



Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution drivers made a good start to Telstra Rally Australia, the final round of the 2005 FIA Production Car World Rally Championship, with lead PWRC driver Fumio Nutahara finishing the first day in fifth position, amongst a very strong field of Group N contenders.

The first leg was the longest of the three and kicked off with a double run of the spectator-friendly super special stage at Gloucester Park in front of thousands of fans last night. Today, crews headed south of the city for a hard day of competition in the forests, before returning to Perth for another two stages at Gloucester Park.

Leading Mitsubishi's FIA PWRC and Group N challenge is Fumio Nutahara, who claimed his sixth All Japan Rally Championship title only two weeks ago. The Japanese claimed the category win in the opening stage of the Australian event last night and has set eight top four stage times throughout the leg in addition to fastest time back at Gloucester Park this evening.

Commenting after a long hard day, Nutahara said: "Today was very difficult. This morning I thought I was driving a bit too carefully so I pushed a bit harder on the stages this afternoon, but the rally is so tricky that it didn't seem to make any difference. The car is running perfectly with no problems, however, so I am going to try and push even harder tomorrow."

FIA PWRC Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution drivers Federico Villagra, Fabio Frisiero and Riccardo Errani had a slightly harder day, each contending with mechanical issues and ending the day in seventh, eighth and ninth respectively.

Villagra, on his first outing in Australia, said: "It is really hard here and to make things worse we had a problem with the brakes for most of the day. It's also been difficult driving on the Silverstone tires. Even though they have been great to drive on for my national championship, I don't trust them on the road surface here. But I am driving steadily and not taking any risks as I want to work on my pace notes for next year."

After a day of engine woes, Frisiero commented: "This is only my second time here and it is too difficult. We have had problems with the engine as it keeps dropping power a few times on each stage but I'm not sure what the cause is. It might be the front differential, in which case we can change that tonight, but we'll have to see."

Errani, who is also driving for FIA PWRC points, said: "I'm driving very carefully today as we have had a problem with the clutch all day. Earlier on we had to complete a stage with a broken steering arm but that was easily fixed and changes to the suspension in the middle of the day also made the car handle better. But this is my first time here and, like a lot of other drivers, I am finding it very difficult."

Leg two includes another seven stages and 122.34 kilometers of competition, most of which takes place around the Sotico forest complex, providing some of the most spectacular action of the season. The day is, once again, rounded off with a final two runs around Gloucester Park.


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Series WRC
Teams Citroën World Rally Team