Swedish Rally: Mitsubishi leg one summary

Tough Leg For Mitsubishi Panizzi forced into retirement Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports has had a difficult start to the 2004 Uddeholm Swedish Rally and Gilles and Hervé Panizzi have been forced into retirement while team-mates Kristian Sohlberg...

Tough Leg For Mitsubishi
Panizzi forced into retirement

Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports has had a difficult start to the 2004 Uddeholm Swedish Rally and Gilles and Hervé Panizzi have been forced into retirement while team-mates Kristian Sohlberg and Kaj Lindström plummeted down the leaderboard this morning and hold 34th in the second Mitsubishi Lancer WRC04.

The Swedish Rally got underway last night with a ceremonial start in the center of Karlstad and, as ever, hundreds of spectators were lured by the WRC fever in the frosty host town. This morning however, the crews headed 85 kilometers north to Hagfors, the base for all three days of the event and from where today's five stages were run. The leg, totaling 145.80 competitive kilometers, also included two runs at the longest stage of the rally, the gigantic 52.57 kilometer Granberget where fans converge in their thousands, building fires and cooking food to keep warm in the frozen forests. The weather has however been the talking point of the rally, unseasonably warm temperatures causing snow and ice to melt and significant patches of gravel to appear on what should be deeply frozen roads covered in thick snow.

Transmission problems have dogged Gilles and Hervé Panizzi throughout the day and the team had changed the Lancer WRC04s gearbox twice before the crew was finally forced into retirement in stage four.

"We had a problem this morning with fifth gear, so the team changed the gearbox after the second stage", commented Gilles. "Then we had a problem with fourth in the second 'box and we put the original one back in the car. But then two kilometers before the end of the fourth stage we had more problems, had to stop and then the car wouldn't re-start. Our aim was always to get to the finish so we can learn more information about the car, so from that point of view it is a shame".

Team-mates Kristian Sohlberg and Kaj Lindström have also had a frustrating day and the pair lost nearly five minutes in the second stage when transmission related problems caused the wheels to lock up. The Finnish Lancer WRC04 crew spun off the road and was buried in a snow bank, dropping them way down the leaderboard. They have however managed to climb from 63rd to 34th, despite a couple of spins this afternoon.

"Five kilometers before the finish of the second stage I started to brake and the wheels just locked up", commented Kristian. "We went off the road and got stuck in a snow bank. All in all it has been a tough day and it taught me a lot".

Adding to the drivers' comments, MMSP Technical Director Mario Fornaris said: "After the successful result in Monte-Carlo we are learning another new chapter in our comeback. The conditions here are much harder and give us another challenge; we lost Gilles with gearbox problems but Kristian is still here and can get more data for the team and experience for himself".

The second leg of the Swedish Rally starts from Karlstad at 05:30 hrs and includes another seven stages around the town of Hagfors. It is the longest leg of the event with 152.40 competitive kilometers and crews will have spent 14 hours behind the wheel before returning for the overnight halt at 19:36 hrs.

News from our rivals...

Markko Märtin has taken the lead of the Swedish Rally, the Estonian Ford driver claiming his advantage after setting fastest time in stage three. His only woe of the day has been stalling at the start of the second stage. Rallye Monte-Carlo victor Sébastien Loeb is however pressuring Märtin from second while Petter Solberg has climbed to third after losing time with a spin in the second stage. Carlos Sainz holds fourth overnight ahead of Janne Tuohino, who has been nominated to score points for Ford in an M-Sport prepared Focus. Marcus Gronhölm had taken the early lead in the Peugeot 307, but the Finn lost nearly a minute with power steering failure in stage three. He is sixth overnight with team-mate Freddy Loix 10th.

Mitsubishi Drivers Take Top Five Places In Group N

Mitsubishi Motors drivers have made an excellent start to the Swedish Rally, the opening round of the 2004 FIA Production Car World Rally Championship. Finland's Jani Paasonen has taken complete control of the field and holds a comfortable lead in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution. In total, Mitsubishi drivers hold seven of the top nine positions in the Group N category and of the Production Car contenders lay first, third, eighth, ninth and tenth.

Jani Paasonen has not rallied a Production car seriously for two years, but that didn't stop the Finn from extracting the full potential from his Lancer Evolution and he rocketed into a commanding lead in the Production Car World Rally Championship.

"We had a small problem with the intercom on the second stage, but otherwise things are going well. We didn't test so much, so I am very pleased with our speed today", said Paasonen, who set fastest time in all five of today's stages.

Italy's rising star "Gigi" Galli put in an encouraging performance on unfamiliar ground to hold third place in the Championship classification in another Lancer Evolution.

"Everything is new for me, but it's good and we have no problems. We need some time to adjust the car and there is still a long way to go", Galli commented.

Mitsubishis are setting the pace of the Group N contenders outside the World Championship classification too. The promising Swede Matthias Ekström has a narrow lead and the enthralling battle between the local heroes is becoming one of the highlights of the rally.

"I made a stupid mistake with the tyres on SS3 and the pressures were too high, so we lost grip, but otherwise everything has been fantastic and we managed to catch the time we lost. I am looking forward to tomorrow", Ekström said.

"To have five of our cars at the top of the leaderboard is fantastic", commented Sven Quandt, MMSP's Head of Motorsport.


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About this article
Series WRC
Drivers Carlos Sainz , Freddy Loix , Marcus Gronholm , Petter Solberg , Sébastien Loeb , Jani Paasonen , Hervé Panizzi , Kristian Sohlberg , Janne Tuohino , Markko Martin , Kaj Lindstrom
Teams M-Sport