Fresh from its triumph on the Hong Kong-Beijing Rally, when Lancer Evolution IIIs took the top three places, Team Winfield Mitsubishi Ralliart is aiming for more championship success on the final round of the World Rally Championship, Spain's Catalunya Rally, the only round of the 1996 series held entirely on asphalt. It is the perfect finale to a hard-fought season, held within reach of the Costa Brava, in weather more reminiscent of spring than the impending winter. The drivers are keenly aware that it is no holiday - but with hundreds of thousands of fanatically keen spectators in attendance, it will take place in a holiday atmosphere.
Mitsubishi can still win the World Rally Championship for Manufacturers and either Germany's Uwe Nittel or Uruguayan Gustavo Trelles is certain to win the Group N World Championship for production cars. Both drive Lancer Evolution IIIs.
Team Winfield Mitsubishi Ralliart has entered a pair of Group A Lancer Evolution IIIs for the new World Champion, Finland's Tommi Makinen, paired for the first time with fellow countryman Juha Repo, and British crew Richard Burns/Robert Reid.
Makinen is eager to show that he can match anyone on asphalt : "I like this kind of tarmac rally. The stages are completely different to Corsica or Sanremo. Here it's fast and quite driveable."
Burns will get his first sight of asphalt at World Championship level. "I hope to achieve a decent position in the top seven or eight. I think there are five potential winners, so my aim is to finish the event, not put a mark on the car and set a couple of good times. I don't quite know what to expect at this level in these conditions, but I'm sure the car is pretty good."
"I think we can learn a lot from this event for next year. We're better prepared than last year. We're under no pressure to get a result, but Tommi can expect to compete with the front runners and Richard's done a lot of tarmac, although mainly in the British Championship. We hope to learn about suspension settings and tyres, which should make it easier for the drivers to set the car up for the Monte Carlo Rally next year," said Ralliart's Director, Andrew Cowan.
The Lancer Evolution IIIs will benefit from Mitsubishi's close relationship with Michelin on an event with numerous long stages. It is expected to be held in warm, dry conditions that will test tyre longevity to the full.
Nittel believes that the pressure is on his rival, Trelles, to deprive him of the Group N crown. "I was the whole year faster than him, so we will see. I am used to driving on tar in Germany, but I must admit it was a strange feeling in the recce after a year on loose surface roads."
The Spanish round of the World Championship is one of the most popular both with teams and the fans. It covers 1,368 kilometres, with 393 on high-speed asphalt stages. The rally starts on Monday morning with a six-stage loop on classic Catalan mountain roads that have formed part of the rally since its European Championship days. Competitors face 115 kilometres of flat-out driving, including their first attempt at the longest stage of the rally.
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Copyright 1996 by Mitsubishi Motors Corporation.