After its record-breaking 1996 season, Team Mitsubishi Ralliart begins its 1997 campaign with a strong, two-car entry for the oldest and most famous rally of all, the Monte Carlo Rally, the first round of the 1997 World Rally Championship. These two cars will be driven by Tommi Makinen partnered by Seppo Harjanne and Uwe Nittel co-driven by Tina Thorner.
MITSUBISHI REVEALS NEW LANCER EVOLUTION IV
FOR MONTE CARLO RALLY
It can hardly fail to be a sensation. It will be the first event held under heavily revised World Rally Championship regulations that include new points-scoring rules, more events and new machinery - World Rally Cars - that run alongside the existing Group A cars, using similar turbo engines and four-wheel-drive systems.
True to its creed that rallying is an ideal proving ground for its road cars, Mitsubishi is the only top team to retain a production-based Group A car, yet its new Lancer Evolution IV is the most exciting and radical of the Monte Carlo contenders - and its rivals are by no means sure that they will be able to keep up with a machine that promises to outperform the ultra-successful Lancer Evolution III that brought Tommi Makinen the 1996 World Rally Championship DrversŐ title.
The Lancer Evolution IV has been tested in the south of France and in Lapland, Finland as well as Japan, and the drivers are as delighted as the engineers with the results. Makinen, Finland's newest champion, says: "The engine feels very good and I like the new computer-controlled gearbox. I am quite happy. I am very confident for Monte Carlo Rally with this new Lancer."
The Monte Carlo Rally is amongst the dwindling group of major events that the 34-year-old from Puuppola and co-driver Seppo Harjanne have yet to win, but Makinen has invariably performed well, finishing fourth on his last attempt in 1995, when driving a Mitsubishi.
"Monte Carlo is always held in difficult conditions, but it's not so bad for me. I think it should be good. It isn't as much fun to drive in difficult conditions, changing from ice to tarmac, but I think it's better for us," he declared.
Phil Short, Team Mitsubishi Ralliart's Team Manager, suspects that the car may not be decisive in any case: "As on many Monte Carlos, tyre choice is going to be the determining factor, particularly if the weather is changeable. Obviously, running a new car adds to the uncertainty and although testing has gone very well in various countries, I'm always concerned that something's going to be thrown up that we're not anticipating."
Makinen will be backed up by promising German Uwe Nittel, who is moving up from Group N to Group A for the first time with Mitsubishi. He will retain his Swedish co-driver, Tina Thorner, and the support of Ralliart Germany. Although it is no longer the latest car, the team's reputation almost guarantees that Nittel will be very much in the running for a good result, even though he will be keen to learn about his new car in new surroundings.
As ever, Mitsubishi will be relying on Michelin on an event that traditionally makes huge demands of the tyre companies. The French giant is well used to making thousands of tyres to cater for anything from dry asphalt to snow and ice, but this year it is having to deal with a new challenge: making a tyre that will last for two stages that might combine the full range of weather conditions. In the past, teams have been allowed to make a tyre choice for every stage, but strict servicing restrictions for professional crews have forced Michelin to devise a tyre that can cope with anything and a subtly modified gravel-type tyre looks like the best bet. It is also working on new, soft-compound asphalt tyres and a new snow tyre. Nothing will be left to chance to improve Mitsubishi's chances of a first Monte Carlo victory.
The demands of a bigger, 14-round World Rally Championship have forced the Automobile Club de Monaco to scrap some of its cherished traditions for the factory teams, including the range of starting points and the non-competitive Concentration Run that opened the event. Nevertheless, it retains most of the elements that have made it a world-famous challenge and one of the most popular events with the massive crowds who flock to southern France from all parts of Europe - and it has even restored a feature that is bound to be a hit: two stages round part of its equally famous F1 Grand Prix track!
Makinen's Mitsubishi will lead a 120-strong cavalcade into action on the Grand Prix track on Sunday, January 19, before a long road section to Valence, ready for a five-stage loop through the Ardeche in central France on January 20 that includes classic tests such as Burzet and St. Bonnet-le-Froid.
After a second overnight halt in Valence, crews head east and south to Gap, to some of the highest stages of the rally, which increases the likelihood of snow. They have seven stages to complete, with at least two in darkness.
The final leg, from Gap to Monaco, is a blend of tradition and novelty. Of course its six stages include the Col de Turini and the Col de la Couillole, but they will be run in the opposite direction and, as the perfect finale, there will be a three-lap stage in the streets of the principality. Who knows? After three days battling through the Alpine winter, the result could be settled on the shore of the Mediterranean - but then the contrast is part of the Monte Carlo's unique appeal.
1997 MONTE CARLO RALLY
19th January - 1st LEG : MONACO - VALENCE12.00 Start from MONACO
SS1 MONACO - BEAUSOLEIL 11,41 km
20.55 Arrival in VALENCE
20th January - 2nd LEG : VALENCE - VALENCE10.00 Start from VALENCE
SS2 LABATIE D'ANDAURE - ST BONNET LE FROID 31,99 km
SS3 ST BONNET LE FROID - LE CHEYLARD 71,26 km
SS4 ST PIERREVILLE - VAL LES BAINS 36,79 km
SS5 BURZET - LE CHEYLARD 53,13 km
SS6 LE MOULINON - VALENCE 86,34 km
21.19 Arrival in VALENCE
21st January - 3rd LEG - VALENCE - GAP08.00 Start from VALENCE
SS7 ST JEAN EN ROYAN - DIE 71,50 km
SS8 LES NONIERES - ASPRES SUR BUECH 71,00 km
SS9 L'EPINE - VERCLAUSE 36,57 km
SS10 RUISSAS - ASPRES SUR BUECH 87,48 km
SS11 CHABESTAN - PLAN DE VITROLLES 29,50 km
SS12 PLAN DE VITROLLES - AERODROME DE TALLARD 28,00 km
20.33 Arrival in GAP
22th January - 4th LEG - GAP - MONACO11.00 Start from GAP
SS13 SISTERON - DIGNE LES BAINS 63,54 km
SS14 DIGNE LES BAINS - PONT DE VILLARON 56,33 km
SS15 PONT DE VILLARON - ANNOT 24,15 km
SS16 BEUIL - COL ST MARTIN 43,97 km
SS17 LA BOLLENE VESUBIE - BEAUSOLEIL 63,94 km
SS18 MONACO - MONACO 08,73 km
21.41 Arrival of the Rally
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Copyright 1997 by Mitsubishi Motors Corporation.