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1998 WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP ROUND 2
THE INTERNATIONAL SWEDISH RALLY (5-8 FEB)



Thursday 5, February
COMMUNIQUE N 1


TEAM MITSUBISHI RALLIART TAKES UP SWEDISH RALLY CHALLENGE


Team Mitsubishi Ralliart is all set for what promises to be the most wintry and possibly the most unpredictable Swedish Rally in years. The team can call on three Group A cars for the second round of the 1998 World Rally Championship : a Lancer Evolution for World Champion Tommi Makinen and Carisma GTs for Richard Burns and Uwe Nittel.

The Swedish is the one true snow rally in the championship and, after several years when comparatively mild conditions have often reduced snow to a bare minimum, extensive falls are forecast for the rally itself. Up to 20 centimetres may fall on Friday, the first day of the rally, alone. In these conditions, position on the road can be decisive. If there is fresh snow, it is better to run further back, but if the snow is replaced by mud and gravel, the first few cars are more likely to retain their vital tyre studs. Team Mitsubishi Ralliart is well prepared for all eventualities, for Michelin has a full range of tyres, including a new type, the GE, designed for stages with a thin covering of ice and gravel. Competition is sure to be fierce, for up to nine drivers are potential winners and there is an added edge to the contest, because the Swedish is the only World Championship rally that has never been won by a non-Nordic driver. Exceptionally fast stages with many blind crests, snow, studded tyres and the rally’s sheer unpredictability make it one of the supreme tests of skill and nerve in world motorsport, and the large crowds reflect the sport’s popularity in Sweden.

Makinen and new co-driver Risto Mannisenmaki are amongst the favourites, for they were clear pace-setters on the Monte Carlo Rally last month and flying Finn Makinen has a fine record in Sweden. He won the rally two years ago and was fastest overall on stages last year in his Lancer Evolution. He is also fighting fit, having shrugged off the ’flu that afflicted him on the Monte Carlo.

“This is one of my favourite rallies and very good for the car. I think we have a good chance to win, especially as I don’t have to go first on the road for a change, but it is hard to know if it is good to be the leader when there is more snow coming. Anyway, it is best to be in front on Sunday afternoon!” said Makinen.

British team-mates Burns and co-driver Robert Reid are in a very different position, as their sole experience of the Swedish Rally is from checking Colin McRae’s pace notes in 1993. Burns is well aware that it will be near-impossible to win with so little knowledge of rallying in the Scandinavian winter.

“It’s faster than I remember. The surface is fairly changeable: some places it’s ice and then others it’s turned to gravel. The main problem is that I don’t know the roads so well and I think it will be more difficult to get a result here than in Monte Carlo. I shall be very pleased to finish and get some points again,” Burns said.


Germany’s Uwe Nittel and Swedish co-driver Tina Thorner strengthen Mitsubishi’s position in their Carisma GT and aim to build on last year’s experience. Nittel put in valuable kilometres on the Monte Carlo Rally in his new Carisma and should challenge for a place in the points.

“This rally is like nothing else in the championship, but the car is fantastic, so we hope for a good result. We have some good snowbanks this year, which always makes this rally nicer to drive. You can lean the car on them if you want and you can get to amazing speeds - sometimes sixth gear for three or four kilometres,” he said.

Team Mitsubishi Ralliart Team Manager Phil Short predicts that it will be an exceptionally demanding rally : “We’re encouraged by the fact that there is more snow than last year, but we’re concerned that there’s going to be gravel showing through on some stages, which is going to make it very hard for the tyres. Both drivers were happy with their cars at the shakedown and Tommi always goes well here. However, he also knows that he has to score points after Monte Carlo. It’s a new situation for Richard, so we’ll be satisfied if he does as well as he did in Monte Carlo,” Short commented.

“This is one of the toughest rallies in the World Rally Championship, with so many good local drivers and such difficult stages - such high speeds, as well as ice and snow. I think it is a good test for Uwe and we think we can get a good result with this car, as he has some knowledge of the rally from the past. We have very good co-operation with Ralliart and I want to thank them for helping us with this car,” said Team Manager Ingolf Raiss.

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 Lancers and
Carismas. Uruguay’s Gustavo Trelles, a double Group N Champion with Mitsubishi, is one of the favourites in his Lancer Evolution, but he faces stern opposition from Swedish and Finnish Mitsubishi drivers such as Backlund, Kangas or Walfridson, and Spaniard Climent.

The rally starts in Karlstad on Friday morning and the first leg includes eight stages on classic roads to the north, round Hagfors and Torsby, which many drivers reckon will be the hardest of the event. In terms of stage distance, it is the longest leg of the rally, with 147 flat-out kilometres, out of a total of 381 stage kilometres.


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

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Copyright 1997 by Mitsubishi Motors Corporation.