Mitsubishi looking to confirm gravel progress. Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart heads to Rally Australia (31 October-3 November) buoyed by the performance of the Lancer Evolution WRC2 in the previous round in New Zealand. Jani Paasonen and Arto ...
Mitsubishi looking to confirm gravel progress.
Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart heads to Rally Australia (31 October-3 November) buoyed by the performance of the Lancer Evolution WRC2 in the previous round in New Zealand. Jani Paasonen and Arto Kapanen flew the team flag with a fine performance and will once again join regular drivers François Delecour and Daniel Grataloup. Team-mate Alister McRae is still not fully recovered from his mountain bike accident in mid-September and the Scot, along with co-driver David Senior, will therefore not contest the penultimate round of the 2002 FIA World Rally Championship.
For many, Rally Australia is one of the highlights of the FIA World Rally Championship season, although the fast narrow stages pose a considerable challenge. Based in Perth, the capital of Western Australia, the event is run in the country's early summer, providing warm and sunny conditions for spectators and crews alike. However, Rally Australia is quite unique in its road surface, the gravel regularly being compared to tiny round marbles which require outstanding car control and a very precise choice of tread pattern to ensure the tyres find grip and do not skate across the surface. Vast crowds are always drawn to the party atmosphere found at the now legendary Langley Park super special stage, which is purpose-built each year on parkland on the banks of the Swan River in the heart of the city. This dual-lane figure of eight circuit may be fun for all, but out in the forests the narrow stages require inch-perfect lines to avoid hitting the trees and numerous stumps that lie just inches away from the racing line. And, like New Zealand, starting order plays a key role, those at the front of the field disadvantaged as they sweep the surface of loose gravel for those behind.
Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart driver François Delecour has contested the event five times, four of which he has been partnered by regular co-driver Daniel Grataloup. The Frenchman has mixed results, but two podium third positions (1993 and 2000) underline Delecour's potential in Australia. Last year, both he and Daniel were however sidelined by an accident that saw them miss the final round of the series before joining Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart for the 2002 season.
"It's an event I enjoy a lot, but it's a difficult and technical one," commented François. "There's a lot of gravel on the roads and they are very narrow. Having said that, there tends to be more grip there than in New Zealand, so the car doesn't move around so much underneath you. It will be a better event for me than New Zealand, because I have more experience there and also some good results. Road position on the first leg should be ideal for us, so hopefully we should be running on much cleaner roads than the front-runners."
Jani Paasonen and Arto Kapanen will again join Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart for Rally Australia and the Finns have competed 'down under' just once previously (2000). After their stunning performance in New Zealand however, where they ran as high as third overall in the Lancer Evolution WRC2 before retiring, the Finns have high hopes of a positive result in Perth.
"I have only done the event once before and led the Group N category by 30 seconds, in a Mitsubishi, before having to retire with fuel pump problems," commented Jani. "I remember some things about the event and now I understand the similarity between New Zealand and Australia, both of which are very slippery with quite narrow and very fast stages. My starting position will be good though and I think the car will go as well as it did in New Zealand. For me, I had to change my gravel driving style to something more like how I drive on Tarmac; neatly, take the speed down, go slow into the corners and then power out - that's how it works well on these type of roads. Going into the event, I now feel pretty confident."
Adding to the drivers' comments, Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart team manager Derek Dauncey said: "Australia is a very technical event, especially when looking at the tyres. The road surface is covered with spherical volcanic gravel and this means that tyres are absolutely crucial, particularly whether they need to be cut for both wet and dry conditions. It's also a very fast, high-speed event where the set-up of the car it important. You have to get the right balance between the ride height and the suspension geometry. We'll be carrying out a four-day test before the event in the Wellington Dam area to prepare base settings."
The 2002 Rally Australia kicks off on the evening of Thursday 31 October with the famous super special stage at Langley Park in the heart of the city, which draws in excess of 15,000 spectators over rally weekend. However, the crews take to the forests early the following morning for the first full day of competition around Dwellingup and Harvey, to the south of Perth. The leg, including the previous evening's super special, includes nine stages and 135.68 kilometres of competition based around a new service area at Dwellingup, closer to Perth. The second leg takes the contenders east to the stages around Mundaring and sees the return of the spectacular York and Muresk special stages, famed for their superb scenery and stomach-churning jumps. The final leg returns to the famous pine plantation at Sotico, formerly known as Bunnings, for the concluding four stages and 105.69 competitive kilometres. Rally Australia covers a total of 24 special stages, 388.64 competitive kilometres in a total route of 1,571.98 kilometres, before returning for the finish in Perth at 16:00 hrs (GMT+8).