DIFFICULT OPENING LEG FOR MITSUBISHI WRC TEAM Galli shows potential but suffers technical set-backs The Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports WRC team suffered a difficult opening leg in Rally New Zealand, uncharacteristic technical problems dropping...
DIFFICULT OPENING LEG FOR MITSUBISHI WRC TEAM
Galli shows potential but suffers technical set-backs
The Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports WRC team suffered a difficult opening leg in Rally New Zealand, uncharacteristic technical problems dropping "Gigi" Galli/Guido D'Amore down the leaderboard from sixth to 10th, while team-mates Harri Rovanperä/Risto Pietiläinen are just one position ahead in ninth in the second Lancer WRC05.
"This is our first rally in five months where we have experienced technical problems like this", commented Isao Torii, Head of Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports. "This can happen, but we have to find the reasons and solutions. Tomorrow is another day and our drivers will be fighting back".
After last night's ceremonial start in Auckland, where hundreds of fans packed into the famous America's Cup harbor area to cheer on the crews, the contenders headed north to Paparoa for today's opening leg of competition covering eight special stages and 129.22 competitive kilometers.
Gigi Galli and Guido D'Amore started the day at a measured pace, however they hit problems at the end of the first stage when the clutch broke. In the morning's remaining three stages the crew had difficulties at each start and finish, but nevertheless increased the pace, climbing to sixth after stage three. Repairs during the mid-day service put Gigi back in contention, but his run of bad luck continued when the alternator broke at the end of the fifth stage.
"Today has been incredible, I feel completely finished!" said Gigi back in service this evening. "The clutch broke at the end of the first stage and we struggled at the start and finish of each stage, having to push and jump start the car at times. We also had a moment in the third stage when there was a huge stone in the road and I just didn't know where to go or what to do! I knew it would break the wheel so I had to drive completely over it; the car flew in the air and we hit a whole line of posts along the side of the road.
"This afternoon I thought we would have a good run, but the alternator broke at the end of stage five. The alarm came on, the car went into 'safe' mode and was effectively just like a road car. We had to drive the remaining three stages like this and had so little power in the last stage that we disconnected virtually everything; the dash screen, radio, intercom, everything. Guido had to do the pace notes with his hands and I think we are very lucky to get back to service".
Adding to Gigi's comments, Mario Fornaris, the team's Technical Director said: "After the alternator broke Gigi continued in safe mode but he did a good job and only lost 1-1.5 seconds a kilometer over the remaining stages. I'm happy the car is back in service now and we can make repairs so he can push hard again tomorrow".
Harri Rovanperä and Risto Pietiläinen have had a trouble-free day but been unlucky with their tire choices. They hold ninth overnight in the second Mitsubishi Lancer WRC05. "Okay, today has gone quite well but our times are not so fantastic", said Harri, who is celebrating his birthday. "This morning our tires were too hard and this afternoon they were too soft... The car has been way too sideways so we will have to try to find a solution for this. In the fifth stage my drink bottle came out of its holder and I had to drive the whole stage with it rolling around in the foot-well; this wasn't so great either. Hopefully tomorrow we can do something better".
The second leg of Rally New Zealand - the longest of the event - starts from the service park in Paparoa early on Saturday morning and takes in another eight stages and 139.49 competitive kilometers. After six classic stages, the crews head south towards Auckland for two runs around the popular Manukau super special stage on the outskirts of the city.
News from our rivals...
Sébastien Loeb has taken the outright lead for Citroën, the Frenchman on electrifying form this afternoon and setting three of the four fastest stage times. Tires played a significant part, enabling him to pull out a useful 23.1 second lead. Marcus Grönholm holds second in the lead Peugeot while François Duval has climbed to third. Petter Solberg set the pace this morning but has slipped to fourth overnight. His team-mate Christopher Atkinson has also played a starring role during the leg. The Australian, who is competing in his first full season in the FIA WRC, set two fastest stage times in the Subaru Impreza WRC 2005 and holds an impressive fifth overall. Toni Gardemeister, who is piloting the sole registered Ford, rounds off the top six.
LANCER EVOLUTION DRIVER XAVIER PONS MAKES STRONG START
Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution driver Xavier Pons has made an impressive start to Rally New Zealand, the second round of the 2005 FIA Production Car World Rally Championship, to hold fourth in the category.
Competition has been ferocious in near-perfect conditions for rallying. Overnight rain made the first of the eight stages damp and treacherous in places, but the roads have been largely firm and exceptionally fast. Large crowds have soaked up warm sunshine in the rolling hills of the Kaipara district north of Auckland and have been treated to an enthralling day's rallying. Even the schools were closed for the day as the entire community succumbed to rally fever.
Spaniard Xavier Pons has limited experience of New Zealand, having contested the event just once before. Nevertheless, he has traded stage times with much more experienced rivals to hold a challenging fourth position with almost two-thirds of the rally still to run.
"It has been a good day for us", he said. "We have had no problems with the car and made a better tire choice this afternoon. Still, tire wear was a bit more than I expected and this rally is so fast. It is very easy to make a mistake".
Argentina's Federico Villagra has made a good start to his Production Car World Rally Championship campaign, holding a place in the points after a well-judged drive in his Lancer Evolution.
"It has been a good start for us", said the Argentinean, who holds eighth in the category. "These stages are very nice to drive and I hope tomorrow will be even better!"
Fumio Nutahara lost time when one of his Lancer Evolution's rear tires came off the rim in SS 4, but the Japanese has experienced no mechanical problems and fought back strongly in the afternoon.
"The speed is very high here and it is going to be difficult to gain many places, but there are two long days to go, so we will try", Nutahara said.
The Lancer Evolution is a popular choice in New Zealand and local drivers are featuring strongly in Group N. Mark Tapper and former New Zealand Champion Neil Allport are both figuring strongly in the class.