Mitsubishi drivers ready for action. Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart completed its final preparations for Rally New Zealand today when the teams registered crews ran the Lancer Evolution WRC2s for the final time ahead of tonight's ceremonial start...
Mitsubishi drivers ready for action.
Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart completed its final preparations for Rally New Zealand today when the teams registered crews ran the Lancer Evolution WRC2s for the final time ahead of tonight's ceremonial start in the centre of Auckland.
The shakedown test, 65 kilometres to the north-west of Auckland, was however the culmination of the team's pre-event testing, both François Delecour and Jani Paasonen having undertaken a four-day test prior to the start of the recce. With more than 600 kilometres run on representative roads to the north and south of the city, combined with fine-tuning over the 5.3 kilometre shakedown road this morning, both drivers are confident they have found the optimum set-up for the 414.04 kilometres of competition ahead.
"Both François and Jani completed two days of testing each, the focus being on the engine tuning and rear differential set-up," commented Michael Zotos, Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart rally engineer. "The car is approximately 20 kilos lighter than it was in Finland and François has the same engine specification as Sanremo, which is giving more lower end torque. We have also found a completely new set-up for the rear differentials which has again made the car more progressive. Jani is very happy and while he knows this whole experience is something new for him, he has taken a lot of useful advice from the Finns in the team who know the rally well. All in all the drivers seem happy with the preparations we have made."
In his fifth outing in New Zealand, François Delecour is again looking forward to the challenge posed by the fast and flowing roads on the North Island. "Everyone loves this rally because the roads are the best and it's flat-out all the way," he said. "We have a very good feeling with the car and will be going maximum attack from the start. I think we have a good start position for Friday and we must capitalise on this from the outset. The engine specification is the same as Sanremo, but it seems to be a little bit better again on gravel. Certainly our times on the shakedown test confirmed this. I hope we can make a good result, but we have to see what happens."
Jani Paasonen and Arto Kapanen are absorbing every snip of information from both their team-mates and colleagues in the team who have vast knowledge of this event. Having never competed here previously, the test and recce have been vital for the Finns and they have worked hard to reach a confident state prior to the start of the event. "We have talked to a lot of the Finns about the event and their experience has been very useful for us," said Jani. "The roads are very like Finland, fast but with much more loose gravel on the surface. Both Arto and I spent time watching the rally on television before we came here so we have tried to do as much as possible to help us during the event. I am very happy with the feeling for the car, and I think our experience here will help us again for our final two outings this year in Australia and Great Britain."
Adding to their comments, Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart team director John Easton said: "Our starting positions should be good for us, certainly if it remains dry, and we must take advantage of this on Friday. It will be interesting to monitor Jani's performance, being that the roads are very like those in Finland. His objective is to go for it and set competitive times -- there is no question of him just driving for a finish. We also spoke to Alister earlier, and he has had another scan back in the UK. His condition certainly seems to be improving, so we're pretty optimistic that we'll see him back in the car for Australia."
Auckland, the City of Sails, is now alive with the buzz of world-class sport and while the 2002 Rally New Zealand starts tonight, the yachting fans have already enjoyed a couple of days of sailing action for the America's Cup, despite high winds forcing the cancellation of today's heats. After tonight's ceremonial start in the centre of Auckland, the rally begins in earnest on Friday morning, the opening leg taking the crews south for eight special stages and 117.16 competitive kilometres, including the spectacular Whaanga Coast stage.