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20th PARIS-GRANADA-DAKAR RALLY
Communique 1
VERSAILLES
Tuesday, December 30, 1997


MITSUBISHI READY FOR DAKAR CHALLENGE

Mitsubishi Motors has today, December 30, 1997, completed the final stages of preparations for the epic 1998 Paris-Dakar Rally, which starts on New Year's Day from Paris. The three top Mitsubishi Pajeros and the Mitsubishi Challenger/Montero Sport passed scrutineering in Versailles in front of large crowds of well-wishers and are now ready for the biggest motor sport challenge in the world.

The Mitsubishi Pajeros are again crewed by the same drivers that dominated the event last year, finishing first, second and third. Kenjiro Shinozuka, the first Japanese driver ever to win the Dakar in his Pajero last year, will again be favourite, backed by French drivers Bruno Saby and Jean-Pierre Fontenay. The three Pajeros will also be supported by Team Ralliart International runner Hiroshi Masuoka, from Japan, who will drive the impressive Mitsubishi Challenger/Montero Sport.

Last year's victor, Kenjiro Shinozuka said in Versailles: "All the preparations for the car are finished and I'm ready for the start. Everything is fine, and I'm really looking forward to the challenge ahead. This year, the regulations for the GPS (Ground Positioning Satellite navigation system) are much more strict and navigating will be more difficult. Despite all this, I am as confident as I was last year and I'm aiming for first place. I'm really in good form, and I feel that with the backing of the team, we can achieve a great result this year."

French driver Bruno Saby stated: "I'm starting my seventh 'Dakar' with a great deal of pleasure. Being part of this is always a huge privilege. My aim is to win. I do not compete very often these days, but this increases my motivation to make the best of every opportunity. And when I see all these people attending scrutineering here in Versailles, it proves that it was a good idea to return to tradition and have the start in Paris."

Jean-Pierre Fontenay added: "For me it is, of course, a big challenge because I have lost my navigator, Bruno Musmarra, who died this year. But, with my new co-driver, Gilles Picard, my motivation is still intact and my aim is to win. I have finished the 'Dakar' in every position except first, so winning is my only goal. Gilles is a great professional and I am sure he will help me achieve my ambition to win this year. We face a lot of opposition from Nissan, Toyota and Schlesser's buggy, however, so it won't be easy."

Mitsubishi Challenger driver, Hiroshi Masuoka, who has impressed with his speed on so many occasions before, declared: "There have been a lot of improvements to my car since last year: The Challenger is easier to drive, the engine has more response, it's 150kg lighter, and the suspension settings have been modified. My aim is to finish, so I don't think about winning. But last year I was fourth and I would like to improve one or two places this time."

Completing last minute checks on route maps and navigation equipment will be the all-important co-drivers who will guide the drivers over 10,245 km of the roughest, toughest terrain imaginable through western Africa to Dakar. Henri Magne will again be partner to Shinozuka, with Dominique Serieys taking up the challenge as usual with Saby. Fontenay will have a new navigator, Gilles Picard, while Masuoka will again use the services of German co-driver Andreas Schulz.

The top Mitsubishi crews will enjoy the highest level of professional support from their loyal team of technicians, engineers and mechanics who will follow the route in aeroplanes and trucks to be of assistance where allowed by the rules. However, a recent development in the history of the "Dakar" has seen the evolution of Marathon legs, where they will drive for several days at a time, relying solely on the legendary reliability of their Mitsubishi Pajeros and their own ingenuity.

The Paris-Dakar creates a logistical nightmare for the managers nonetheless. But, as Ullrich Brehmer explained as he completed his final checks, the motivation is there to overcome all these hurdles and win: "Our target is to achieve at least as good a result as in 1997. I hope that the challenge from our competitors will be stronger than last year when we lost our major contenders too early. Our Pajeros are new, but they have been developed on a basis that we know perfectly well, so I see no reason for us not to be competitive. We have tested the Pajero over 10,000 km, so I can say it is a really good car."

In charge of the Team Mitsubishi Ralliart International's entry of Masuoka and the supporting cast of 18 private Mitsubishi runners, Karl Ille said: "Like last year, our team is very international with crews coming from virtually everywhere. Eight countries are represented, including South Africa and Brazil. We have 18 Mitsubishi 4WD cars (Pajeros/Montero Sports and Strada), plus two Mitsubishi trucks competing in the T4 category. We hope to achieve as good results in each category as last year, and bring every crew safely to Dakar, despite the difficult course."

Luc Alphand, driving for the first time on this event, summed up the feelings of the privateers who have entered with Mitsubishi when he said: "It's brilliant to be here. My dream is coming true. Now we need to go for it and get as far as possible without making any mistakes. It is very encouraging to be part of the Mitsubishi team, with all these people taking care of us in the best possible way. I feel really good in this team. I really don't know what to expect, but I will learn as I go and just getting to Dakar would be the best reward."

The world's greatest motoring adventure starts on New Year's Day, and the crews will set out from Paris full of hope for the 18 days and 6,388 km of competitive driving that lie ahead. But only a few will make it to the Senegalese capital of Dakar, and those who do, will enjoy a well-earned celebration, whatever the result!



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Copyright 1998 by Mitsubishi Motors Corporation.