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1998 WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP ROUND 1
MONTE CARLO RALLY (18-21 JAN)


Sunday, 18 January
COMMUNIQUE N 1

TEAM MITSUBISHI RALLIART SET FOR TOUGH MONTE CARLO RALLY


Team Mitsubishi Ralliart is preparing for the Monte Carlo Rally, one of the toughest challenges in motorsport, for although the event is the shortest ever in the World Rally Championship, the first round of the 1998 season promises to be exceptionally tough thanks to bad weather. Three cars will run under the Team Mitsubishi Ralliart banner – a Lancer Evolution for Tommi Makinen and Carisma GTs for Richard Burns and Uwe Nittel.

Traditionally, the Monte Carlo Rally is one of the most unpredictable of the major rallies, because the weather can change in a matter of hours. Competitors meet with anything from dry asphalt to deep snow, with rain, fog or ice all possibilities. In such conditions, drivers need judgement just as much as speed, as there can be more than 10 different types of tyre to choose from and every chance that the tyres are not ideal for every situation, because conditions can change by the kilometre. Mitsubishi is well equipped, thanks to thorough testing with Michelin in recent weeks. Snow is forecast for Sunday evening and it seems inevitable that the opening stages on the twisty roads of the Alpes-Maritimes will be especially slippery. The spectacle is sure to attract vast crowds from throughout Europe, thronging the mountainsides to catch a glimpse of top drivers pushing highly sophisticated machinery on the limit.

As the World Rally Champion with Mitsubishi for the past two years, Finland’s Tommi Makinen and new co-driver Risto Maanisenmaki are naturally amongst the favourites in their Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, even though Makinen is suffering a little from ’flu. Makinen – who set an electrifying pace to lead much of last year’s Monte Carlo Rally – is bidding to become the first driver to win the World Championship three times running.

“On this rally, you have to be as careful as possible, because of the conditions. The car is very well developed now and we had a short test just before the recce, when I drove it for 100 kilometres,” said Makinen. “Risto is one of the most experienced young co-drivers from Finland and we have been working very well during the recce. I don’t think we will have any problem. I think a Monte Carlo victory would be a good way to start our relationship!”

British team-mates Richard Burns and Robert Reid are contesting the Monte Carlo Rally for the first time and realise that they have plenty to learn. Burns admits that he would like dry conditions, but knows that a mixture of snow and asphalt would be good experience and excellent preparation for his next rally, the Swedish.

“I think it’s probably confirmed what I thought: we are starting the year with one of the most difficult rallies. We’ve seen quite difficult conditions in the recce – snow, black ice, slush – and there will be quite a few tyre compromises. My objective is to get round in one piece. There are a lot of fresh things for me,” said Burns.

“We don’t really know what’s going to happen with the weather, but we’re as well prepared as we can be,” said Team Mitsubishi Ralliart Director Andrew Cowan. “The Monte Carlo is always an unpredictable rally, partly because of the weather and partly because you never know how much development other teams have done since the end of last season.” Team Mitsubishi Ralliart has made some refinements to the highly successful Lancers and Carismas, concentrating on suspension and tyres to make them easier to drive and effective in as wide a range of conditions as possible.

Uwe Nittel of Germany and Swedish co-driver Tina Thorner are delighted to be driving one of the latest Carisma GTs and aim to make the most of the experience gained on previous Monte Carlo Rallies.

“It’s a brilliant car. We haven’t tested it much, but we’re really hoping for a good result,” Nittel enthused.

Mitsubishi is hoping to exercise its usual dominance of the Group N category, the most convincing demonstration of the speed and reliability of the standard production Lancer. Uruguay’s Gustavo Trelles, a double Group N Champion with Mitsubishi, is the clear favourite in his Lancer Evolution, but he faces stern opposition from French Mitsubishi drivers such as former European Champion Cesar Baroni, Frederic Schmit and Didier Martini.

Competitors face a total of 20 stages, covering 359 kilometres, during the three-day rally. Competitors head from Monaco to Gap on Monday, attempting six stages which span 119 kilometres.


MICHELIN - MITSUBISHI OIL - ENKEI - NGK - OHLINS - OMP -
PIAA - PRINGLE OF SCOTLAND - SABELT



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