Even though he had never rallied a Mitsubishi before, 1994 World Rally Champion Auriol rapidly adjusted to the Lancer Evolution III, finding it easy to drive and highly competitive on the classic loose-surface stages of central Italy.
Making full use of the latest Michelin tyres, he was fastest on stage 7, but dropped back a little when the car's four-wheel-drive system gave less than optimum performance towards the end of the second leg.
Consistent times on the final, all-asphalt leg resulted in eighth place for Team Winfield Mitsubishi Ralliart and ensured that the team maintained the pressure on its rivals in the World Championship for Manufacturers.
Auriol had delivered the points-scoring drive the team required and provided valuable information that can refine future Mitsubishis for asphalt rallies.
"I'm pleased with my return to World Championship rallying. The Lancer Evolution III is easy to drive. I can't fault the car. I think the last day was good, because it showed the car has potential. I think it also proves the driver is not too bad either!" Auriol said.
"We still stand a chance of winning the World Championship for Manufacturers and Didier has made some very positive suggestions. Some of his ideas we can incorporate for Catalonia and indeed for the Evolution IV," reported Phil Short, Team Winfield Mitsubishi Ralliart's Team Manager.
Lancer Evolution IIIs scored another resounding success in Group N, with a Mitsubishi driver now certain to win the world title. Uruguayan Gustavo Trelles, co-driven by Argentina's Jorge Del Buono, cruised to a victory that brings them within reach of the Group N World Cup.
They got strong support from Belgians Pascal Smets and Jean-Pierre S'Heeren in another Lancer Evolution III. The early pacesetters were Uwe Nittel/Tina Thorner until they had the misfortune to slide into a ditch on a corner where no spectators were on hand to extract their Ralliart Germany car.
New World Champion Tommi Makinen of Finland and co-driver Seppo Harjanne were forced to retire their Lancer Evolution III after leaving the road during the first leg of the rally.
Dates : 12 - 16 October, 1996
Length/Longueur 1958.12 kms:
Total SS/EC : 381.15 kms
Entrants/Engages : 95
Starters/Partants : 93
Manufacturers/Constructeurs : Ford 21, Peugeot 15, Opel 14, Mitsubishi 8, Subaru 7, Toyota 7, Fiat 5, Lancia 5, Renault 5, Alfa 1, Audi 1, Honda 1, Daewoo 1, Nissan 1, Proton 1, Skoda 1, Volkswagen 1
Nationalities/Nationalites : Italy 69, France 5, Belgium 3, Germany 3, Spain 2, Austria 2, Finland 2, Switzerland 1, San Marino 1, Argentina 1, Slovenia 1, Czech Republic 1, Sweden 1
1. C. McRAE/D. RINGER -GB/GB- SUBARU IMPREZA 4.26.57
2. C. SAINZ/L. MOYA -E/E- FORD ESCORT COSWORTH + 0.22
3. B. THIRY/S. PREVOT -B/B- FORD ESCORT COSWORTH + 2.09
4. F. LOIX/S. SMEETS -B/B- TOYOTA CELICA + 2.51
5. K. ERIKSSON/S. PARMANDER - S/S- SUBARU IMPREZA + 2.54
6. G. CUNICO/P. SCALVINI -I/I- FORD ESCORT COSWORTH + 3.44
7. G. PIANEZZOLA/L. ROGGIA -I/I- TOYOTA CELICA + 4.01
8. D. AURIOL/D. GIRAUDET -F/F- WINFIELD MITSUBISHI LANCER EV. III + 4.53
9. A. MEDEGHINI/"MEDEGHINI" -I/I- SUBARU IMPREZA + 8.02
9. P. BERNARDINI/D. SAVIGNONI -F/F- FORD ESCORT COSWORTH + 8.02
Gr N winner/Vainqueur Gr N :
G. TRELLES/J. DEL BUONO -E/RA- MITSUBISHI LANCER EVOLUTION III
Stages winners : Sainz 5, McRae 5,, Loix 3, Auriol 1, Thiry 1, Liatti 1, Dallavilla 1
Rally leaders : Dallavilla 2-3, McRae 4-18
World Championship for Drivers/Championnat du Monde Pilotes : Makinen 115 (World Rally Champion*), Sainz 89, Eriksson 74, McRae 72, Liatti 41, Kankkunen 37, Thiry 32, Burns 18
World Championship for Manufacturers/Championnat du Monde Constructeurs : Subaru 337, Mitsubishi 304, Ford 274
* Subject to the official confirmation by the FIA.
Team Winfield Mitsubishi Ralliart has strengthened its team for the Sanremo Rally, Italy's round of the World Championship, by hiring one of the most successful drivers in rallying's history, Didier Auriol, who will drive for Mitsubishi for the first time. The 38-year-old Frenchman won the 1994 World Championship and, while his 17 wins at World Championship level have been achieved on all kinds of rallies, he has enjoyed his most frequent successes on the classic Mediterranean events, such as the Monte Carlo and Sanremo Rallies. He has a superior record to any other driver starting this year's Sanremo, with 3 wins to his credit.
Equally at home on asphalt and loose-surface stages, Auriol has an explosive turn of speed and is raring for action after a fallow year.
"It is the best car and the best team at the moment," he said enthusiastically. "It's a fantastic chance to return to the World Championship. I'm in top form physically and mentally."
He will be co-driven by fellow countryman Denis Giraudet, with whom he won the 1995 Tour of Corsica.
Team Winfield Mitsubishi Ralliart is entrusting its other Lancer Evolution III to its ultra-successful Finnish pairing, Tommi Makinen and Seppo Harjanne. Makinen has relatively limited experience of the Sanremo roads, which ought to prove a handicap with current restrictions on practising the stages. However, his 5 1996 World Championship victories already include 2 rallies he had never contested in his life and, when he is in such brilliant form, he will be one of the favourites regardless.
"Now that I have won the World Championship, I really want to win these tarmac events, to show that we are fast there too," he promised.
Team Winfield Mitsubishi Ralliart's Director, Andrew Cowan, is optimistic about his team's chances of defending its nine-point World Championship lead over Subaru, on Mitsubishi's third attempt at the Sanremo Rally.
"We thought that this was an opportunity that we shouldn't miss. I'm delighted that Mitsubishi has given us the go-ahead to try and win the Manufacturers' Championship too," he said.
The Sanremo Rally is a unique challenge. It is the only round of the World Championship to include stages on tar and dirt roads, which makes it a supreme test of the drivers' skills and the all-round capabilities of the car - not to mention the tyres. Team Winfield Mitsubishi Ralliart has no fears on that score, profiting from its fruitful partnership with Michelin. It will be the first asphalt rally for the Lancer Evolution III since last year's Catalonia Rally.
Unpredictable weather in mid-October means that adaptability and thorough preparation are vital. Drivers may encounter 30-degree heat and abrasive, tyre-destroying bedrock on the loose-surface roads of Tuscany and Umbria, or torrential rain that turns them to muddy slime; bad weather can make the renowned mountain passes close to Sanremo a daunting challenge too.
Mitsubishi will be supported by the Group N Lancer Evolution III prepared by Ralliart Germany for Uwe Nittel and Tina Thorner. Promising German Nittel is on the brink of carrying off the World Cup for Production Cars, the supreme accolade for Group N machinery. A string of successes for Mitsubishi is eloquent proof of the speed and reliability of the standard Lancer Evolution III. The 1,963-kilometre rally starts in Sanremo on October 13.
Copyright 1996 by Mitsubishi Motors Corporation.
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