Swedish Rally: Mitsubishi preview

Another fresh challenge for the Mitsubishi Lancer WRC04 The Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports team heads to Scandinavia for the second round of the FIA World Rally Championship, the Uddeholm Swedish Rally providing yet another new challenge for the...

Another fresh challenge for the Mitsubishi Lancer WRC04

The Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports team heads to Scandinavia for the second round of the FIA World Rally Championship, the Uddeholm Swedish Rally providing yet another new challenge for the Lancer WRC04. The all-French crew of Gilles and Hervé Panizzi will be joined by Finns Kristian Sohlberg and Kaj Lindström, and the team's focus will be to build on its successful debut performance in Monte-Carlo.

The second round of the FIA World Rally Championship is hosted in yet another unique setting and provides a totally different test for the crews. Based in its traditional home of Karlstad, 250 kilometers west of Stockholm, the Swedish Rally is the wintriest event in the 16-round series. In recent years conditions have gradually changed, but sub-zero temperatures and frozen ground are almost guaranteed, although less snow-fall has however become more and more of a significant factor. At its best, temperatures plunge to minus 30 degrees Celsius and deep snow trails make it one of the most spectacular events in the series. Milder weather results in fewer snow banks, traditionally used by the drivers to scrub speed, and if patches of gravel begin to show through, the retention of tungsten studs in the tires can become an issue.

For many, the prospect of driving at speed on snow is unthinkable, but the use of studded tires makes this event one of the fastest of the year. It is a rally in which Mitsubishi has had considerable success, in association with tire partner Michelin, but whatever the conditions, thousands of rally fans still pour into the stages and make it the most popular event in the country.

Thirty-eight-year-old Gilles Panizzi has only previously contested the event once (2002) so this fast and snowy challenge will not only be new to the Lancer WRC04, but as good as to the Frenchman. Despite a points-scoring finish with Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports in Monte-Carlo last weekend, Gilles is however totally realistic about the team's chances in Sweden with little if any time for further development.

"For me, I have less experience in this rally because I have only done it one time", commented Gilles. "Sweden is too close for any further development and it's difficult for the engineers to improve the car or to adapt to different solutions for this event. I think if we can finish the Monte, we can finish the Swedish Rally though. I will be looking to Kristian for his very good experience in this rally and I hope we can do the maximum of kilometers to learn even more.

"México will probably see the beginning of the advancements in the car", continued Gilles. "We have more time, one month, and two big gravel tests before then; that's important for us and we need that time. We will also have dedicated time at Mira (UK) with the engine specialists and that will help enormously".

Team-mate Kristian Sohlberg, who is competing with co-driver Kaj Lindström for the first time, has three Swedish outings to his name, all of which have been in Mitsubishi machinery. Despite retiring in his first event (2001), he won the Production Car World Rally Championship category the following year and was 12th overall in the team's WRC2 car in 2003.

"I'm looking forward to the rally as you might say it's my first event as a real works driver", commented Kristian. "We are still lacking time with testing but we were all very pleased to see Gilles get the car to the finish in Monte-Carlo and claim points. This is good for everyone and helps the engineers gain more data for the on-going development work. Our objective in Sweden will be to go for the finish and of course it is a good event for me to start with the team. If the car works as we hope, I think we can do some decent times and maybe surprise a few people in some stages".

"It's a fast rally, a drivers event because we go so fast and there is not so much room for mistakes", added Kristian. "Apparently there should be a lot of snow which makes it more interesting because you can lean on the banks and maybe overdrive a bit, but that is not really the case for us this year; we must take it easy, get to the finish and learn".

Commenting on the team's progress, Mario Fornaris, Technical Director of Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports Team said: "The car specification in Sweden will be very similar to Monte-Carlo as there is no time to do any modifications. But I feel confident about the team; we learned a lot about the car last weekend so everyone is more confident".

The International Swedish Rally kicks off on the evening of Thursday 5 February with a ceremonial start in the center of Karlstad, a colorful affair that traditionally draws crowds of rally fans. Friday morning however the crews leave the city at 06:30 hrs for the 85 kilometer drive to Hagfors to the service area and opening leg of competition. Five stages and 145.80 competitive lay in wait, the last of which is the now traditional 1.86 kilometer super special. Saturday's leg also starts from Karlstad and takes in eight stages over a long day that starts at 05:30 hrs and finishes back in the host city at 19:36 hrs. The final leg is by far the shortest with just 96.60 competitive kilometers over six stages. In total, the Swedish Rally covers 19 stages over 395.80 competitive kilometers in a total distance of 1,981.68 kilometers. The crews arrive back in Karlstad for the finish at 16:38 hrs (GMT+1) on Sunday, February 8.


Mitsubishi drivers bid to regain Production car crown

The 2004 FIA Production Car World Rally Championship looks set to be the most fiercely contested in years, with no fewer than 20 drivers registering for the seven round series. A host of former factory drivers, junior and production car champions have committed to the championship and the title will be fought out between Mitsubishi, Subaru and Proton crews from 15 different countries.

This year, the series once again takes the crews around the world, with events in Sweden, México (March), New Zealand (April), Argentina (July), Germany (August), Corsica (October) and Australia (November).

No fewer than 10 of the registered crews will be bidding to regain the title of a series Mitsubishi has dominated for years. In this world Group N production car category, Mitsubishi's record is unmatched and includes seven consecutive titles from 1995 to 2001 with the Lancer Evolution.

In this season's series, Mitsubishi will be represented by former Junior World Rally Champion Daniel Solà, and Gianluigi "Gigi" Galli, who will both also be driving Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports' Lancer WRC04 on selected rounds of the World Rally Championship. Finland's Jani Paasonen, a former factory driver with Mitsubishi, has also chosen the previously all-conquering Lancer Evolution as his challenger for the season, along with 2000 Production Car World Rally Champion Manfred Stohl. Japan's Fumio Nutahara, a long-time Mitsubishi campaigner, has also registered for the first time.

Performance and reliability have made the Lancer Evolution the car to beat in the past, but the opposition is stronger than ever and the opening round of the series, in Sweden, is uniquely demanding. Fresh from his encouraging performance in Monte-Carlo, "Gigi" Galli is keener than ever to demonstrate that he can be just as competitive on a pure snow rally in his Lancer Evolution.

"The Swedish is a fantastic rally for a driver", said the Italian, who has competed in the event three times. "It is so different from anywhere else and I want to show that I can be fast in any conditions, but I think this will be one of the toughest rallies of the year for me".

2002 Junior World Champion Daniel Solà is competing on unfamiliar terrain and is just as determined to make a strong impression in his Lancer Evolution.

"The Swedish is a rally that is always fun. I had quite a good result last year and I want to use my experience to finish better this time. With a car like the Lancer, this is a real opportunity for me", Solà commented.

Nordic drivers are rarely beaten in these conditions and one of the most formidable Mitsubishi drivers is sure to be Finland's Jani Paasonen.

"I have won the production class here before, so I have a good feeling for the rally. It is important to win here if possible!" said Jani.

Mitsubishi can also depend on drivers of the caliber of former Production Car World Rally Champion Manfred Stohl and Pole Tomasz Kuchar, with newcomer Sebastian Vollak getting his first taste of World Championship competition. Such is the popularity of the Swedish Rally that no fewer than 18 of the 20 registered crews have nominated this as one of their points-scoring events of the season.

The Production Car World Rally Championship contenders will however have to be on peak form to win the Group N class on this rally; for Mitsubishi has a powerful following in Sweden and a host of non-registered drivers will be taking part. Former winners, such as Kenneth Bäcklund and Stig-Olov Walfridson, along with Oscar Svedlund, will all be in action in this true winter event. Even finishing in the top three will be some achievement.


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Series WRC
Drivers Kenneth Backlund , Gilles Panizzi , Jani Paasonen , Tomasz Kuchar , Hervé Panizzi , Daniel Sola , Kristian Sohlberg , Manfred Stohl , Oscar Svedlund , Sebastian Vollak , Kaj Lindstrom