The Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports WRC crew of Harri Rovanpera/Risto Pietilainen finished Rally Japan, the 13th round of the FIA World Rally Championship, in fifth position - a result that belies a stunning performance throughout the event. Gilles...
The Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports WRC crew of Harri Rovanpera/Risto Pietilainen finished Rally Japan, the 13th round of the FIA World Rally Championship, in fifth position - a result that belies a stunning performance throughout the event. Gilles and Herve Panizzi, in the second registered Lancer WRC05, finished in 11th position. "Gigi" Galli and Guido d'Amore were on course for a fourth place finish but were forced into retirement after damaging the rear suspension.
"This rally has been difficult and not predictable, but I believe we have showed very good performance, especially during the first two legs," commented Isao Torii, Head of Mitsubishi Motor Sports. "I think our red fans enjoyed our fighting spirit. Today Harri had a problem, but immediately came back with a fastest time - he is 'King of the Satsunai super special! Gilles reached the finish and I'm sure will be looking forward to Corsica, while Gigi was unlucky, but then this is what the sport can be about. We have had two very good days during this rally and our motivation is high for the future."
Today leg, near Shintoku and to the north-west of Obihiro, was the shortest and took in five stages and 85.94 competitive kilometers, again based around the central service area at Kita Aikoku.
Harri Rovanpera, fifth overnight, had a heart-wrenching morning, the Finn losing time when the engine stalled in the first corner of the first stage, losing him 36 seconds to the leader and his position to both Atkinson and Duval. He then dropped another 50 seconds in the following stage with damage to the front right corner. Despite such disappointment, he did however hold on to a position in the top six at the mid-leg service. In the following super special stage he was back on the pace, setting equal fastest time alongside reigning World Rally Champion Sebastien Loeb, and then inherited fifth position in the penultimate stage when rally leader Petter Solberg was forced into retirement.
"Generally I have to say the whole weekend - in fact the whole week - has been very nice," said Harri. "We can now show our speed and maintain a top position and that's the main thing. It has been easier than last year, mainly because we have had fewer problems, but you can never say a rally is 'easy' and this one, in particular, is very tough. But now we have proved we and the car can fight. And of course I have to say that the support we have all had here is amazing; there were thousands of people on the road sections - red flags everywhere!"
Gigi Galli - who has also shown a great performance on Mitsubishi's home rally - started the day fourth overall and claimed fifth in the opening stage to maintain position. However, the Italian damaged the left rear suspension after running wide and hitting something in the 24.88 kilometer Penke stage (SS23) and dropped over five minutes limping to the end. He plummeted down the leaderboard to 11th but was forced to retire after the stage.
"It was really bad luck, what can I say," said Gigi. "We just touched something, I don't know what and I'm so sorry and apologetic to the team. Maybe it was the same corner where Harri had his problem, I think it's possible, and he was just luckier than me. It is hugely disappointing and reminds us that with one small mistake you can lose a lot. But we have to keep in our mind that the car performed fantastically here in Japan and our performance was good for two full days."
Gilles Panizzi enjoyed a better day and was happier after the team made various changes to the Lancer WRC05 last night. "The feeling has been much better today, but the car is still a little too 'lazy' for the way I like to drive," he said. "I tried to progress again this afternoon but really I needed to come back and understand the car again for the future."
Adding to the drivers' comments, Technical Director Yasuo Tanaka said: "It's been a disappointing day but, except for this, Rally Japan has been a fantastic event for Mitsubishi; our best of the season. We confirmed our performance and made good improvements that can drive us forward once again."
The FIA World Rally Championship contenders now return to Europe for two Mediterranean back-to-back rallies. The Rallye de France - Tour de Corse (October 20-23) is one of the most specialized Tarmac rallies in the series and poses a huge technical and physical challenge with its incessant twists and turns through mountainous terrain. The Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports WRC team will once again be fielding three cars for Harri Rovanpera, Gigi Galli and Gilles Panizzi.
News from our rivals
After leading the rally for all but two stages, Petter Solberg was robbed of victory in the penultimate stage when he hit a rock and broke the Subaru's steering. Victory therefore landed in the lap of Marcus Gronholm, his second win of the season. Sebastien Loeb - finishing second overall - claimed the FIA World Rally Championship title (subject to FIA confirmation) on Japanese soil. The Frenchman only needed to finish third, regardless of rivals' positions around him, and drove the rally required to secure his second title. Subaru's Chris Atkinson drove to third, his best-ever result, while Francois Duval claimed fourth ahead of Mitsubishi driver Harri Rovanpera. Ford maintained its record of scoring on each round; Toni Gardemeister and Roman Kresta finishing sixth and seventh respectively to claim Ford's 57th consecutive points-scoring finish. Daniel Carlsson, stepping in for Markko Martin, rounded off the top eight.