After the ice and snow of Sweden, Corona Rally Mexico - the third round of the FIA World Rally Championship - presents a totally different challenge to the Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports WRC team. Harri Rovanpera and Risto Pietilainen return to...
After the ice and snow of Sweden, Corona Rally Mexico - the third round of the FIA World Rally Championship - presents a totally different challenge to the Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports WRC team. Harri Rovanpera and Risto Pietilainen return to the scene of a crushing victory, while team-mates Gilles and Herve Panizzi will be back behind the wheel of the second Lancer WRC05 after finishing on the podium in Rallye Monte-Carlo.
The team will also be running the Mitsubishi Lancer WRC05s with its new active center differential for the first time in competition. "We have done a lot of kilometers of gravel testing with the new active differential system in the last few weeks", said Mario Fornaris, the team's Technical Director. "The specification for Mexico is quite basic, but we feel the car is more balanced and I am happy that in different situations we can optimize its behavior. There is still a lot of work to do because we are at the beginning of this development, but the drivers' comments were very positive concerning the overall handling, and the reliability of the system has so far been good".
Adding to his comments, Isao Torii, Mitsubishi's Head of Motorsports said: "The implementation of the active center differential system is a big step towards us being competitive on gravel rallies. However, this is the first event using the new system and we have to learn more, because in competition it's always different to testing conditions. Our goal is to bring both cars into the finish and score manufacturer points"
Harri Rovanpera and Risto Pietilainen first competed in Mexico in 2002, when the event was hotly-tipped for inclusion in the world series. While competition among the regular contenders was fierce, the Finns romped to a convincing victory ahead of local Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution driver Carlos Izquierdo. When the duo returned in 2004 for the country's first World Championship event, they were however hampered by transmission problems and ultimately finished 10th.
"The gravel test was good; we worked with the new differential system and also made some improvements to the suspension settings", commented Harri. "Gilles continued with the test program so I will see the latest results during the shakedown test in Mexico. This was also my first test with the Pirelli gravel tire and the only small problem was that the weather conditions were slightly different to how they will be in Mexico, but the feeling was very good and I am quite confident with the Pirelli gravel tires".
Team-mates Gilles and Herve Panizzi competed in Mexico last year for the first time and claimed eighth position in their first gravel rally with Mitsubishi's World Rally Car.
"I did two days and maybe 350 test kilometers of testing and I continue to say the car is getting better and better", said Gilles. "The new active center differential helps a lot with the balance and traction, especially under braking into corners. We still need more experience with the new system, in particular with all the different adjustments, but I am confident. I also like Rally Mexico a lot because it has nice stages and is very interesting to drive".
Rally Mexico, which is running for the second time in the FIA World Rally Championship, follows in the footsteps of two very specialized events. As the first full gravel rally of the season, it is therefore viewed by many as the true gauge of competitiveness. Last year, when the event made its debut in the series, it was hailed a success by many and voted by the teams as the second-best rally in the World Championship. With world-class gravel roads and the first warmth and sunshine of the season, crews will doubtless be looking forward to the long haul to the North American continent. The event is fought out in the Sierra de Lobos and Sierra de Guanajuato mountains around Leon, the fifth biggest city in Mexico and located 300 kilometers northwest of Mexico City. A mix of conditions see the crews wind their way through spectacular mountain scenery, interspersed by tiny villages and locals on horseback. The route also takes the crews to the highest altitude in the series - 2737 meters - and over possibly the longest stage in the Championship (44.39 km).
The event starts with what is now regarded as one of the most spectacular start ceremonies in the series. The city of Guanajuato, with its maze of roads and underground transportation tunnels, will mark the start of the rally on Thursday evening, but Friday is when the real action starts. Marginally the longest day of the event, the route takes the crews over two loops of three identical stages totaling 149.84 competitive kilometers. Saturday's leg once again covers six stages, three run twice and split by service in Leon. On Sunday, just two stages lay in wait but the rally finishes with the long 44.39 competitive kilometer run from Alfaro to El Establo. With 38% of the route being competitive, Corona Rally Mexico is among the most compact in the series and covers 14 stages in total and 355.97 competitive kilometers in a total distance of 929.89 kilometers.