FIA World Rally Championship leader Tommi Makinen faces what could be his toughest challenge th year when he tackles the second round, the Safari Rally which starts in Nairobi, Kenya, on Friday April 5, 1996, driving the Team Mitsubishi Ralliart Lancer Evolution III.
Winner of the first round of the series, the Swedish Rally, Finland's Makinen will be co-driven as usual by the experienced Seppo Harjanne, but this will be his first attempt at arguably the most famous and certainly the longest modern World Championship rally.
The Safari Rally runs over three days with an overall route length of 2,995 km and an awe-inspiring 1,912 km of competitive sections - over three times as long, in terms of competitive distance, as a normal World Championship round. The event also promises some of the harshest terrain in rallying, with competitors facing everything from fast, rough tracks through the plains to deep mud holes, twisting gravel roads through pine forests and wide open desert-like rocky plateaux. Makinen will have to rely heavily on the legendary reliability of his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution III and the superb back-up provided by Team Mitsubishi Ralliart.
Says Makinen: "This will be my biggest challenge yet. But I have completed some good testing with the Lancer and it feels very good. I have every confidence that we can be competitive. This is an endurance event and I will have to learn to drive accordingly."
Although this will be Makinen's first attempt at the Safari, and this will also be the first visit by Ralliart Europe, the whole team will benefit from years of experience provided by Japanese ace Kenjiro Shinozuka, who will drive for Mitsubishi Lancer Dealer Team the Tusk Engineering-prepared Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution III, using the same parts and components as Makinen's Lancer.
One of the favourites in this year's Safari, Shinozuka has competed successfully for Mitsubishi in Kenya for many years, finishing second on the event in 1994 and 1995, and is sure to be a front-runner with his controlled and intelligent driving style.
Team Mitsubishi Ralliart Director Andrew Cowan will also bring a great deal of experience to the team's efforts this year, having competed successfully himself in a Mitsubishi during the 1970s, finishing as high as third in 1976 when Mitsubishi Lancers finished first, second and third with Joginder Singh winning for the second time with Mitsubishi. Team Manager Phil Short reports: "We have completed two tests, the second in Kenya when Tommi and test driver Lassi Lampi covered over 1500 km in an exact replica of the rally car, and we experienced relatively few problems. The suspension, body and engine worked extremely well, and the Michelin tyres we tested performed superbly. This testing is critical, since the event is run in high temperatures and at high altitude, which can affect the engine's performance. Together with Ralliart Europe, Tusk Engineering and eight mechanics from Ralliart Australia, I think we have a very strong team. It is impossible to predict what will happen on the Safari, because weather conditions can change rapidly and create unexpected developments, but with Tommi's ability and Kenjiro's excellent track record here, I'm sure we stand a very good chance of success."
The general opinion is that the Safari Rally is often won or lost in the service areas, and that consistency from the drivers and good teamwork are the keys to success. With each of the three legs longer than an entire World Championship event, and just 10 to 15 minutes of service between competitive sections, Mitsubishi's chances will rest with the proven reliability and durability of the Lancer Evolution III and the expertise of the team. Two helicopters will be employed, one each for Makinen and Shinozuka to provide airborne service and support, and to warn of hazards on the road ahead and provide safety cover.
The 1996 Safari Rally starts on Friday, April 5 at 09:30 from Nairobi, finishing back in the capital on Sunday, April 7.
Copyright 1996 by Mitsubishi Motors Corporation.
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