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1997 WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP ROUND 14
1997 NETWORK Q RAC RALLY

1997 NETWORK Q RAC RALLY
Saturday, November 22, 1997
COMMUNIQUE N 1

MITSUBISHI DRIVER MAKINEN NEARS WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP

Team Mitsubishi Ralliart driver Tommi Makinen is on the brink of taking the World Rally Championship for the second year running and need only finish in a points-scoring position on the RAC Rally, the 14th and final round of the 1997 World Rally Championship, to put the title beyond anyone else's reach. Makinen, the winner of four events this year in his pace-setting, Michelin-equipped Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, will have powerful support from Carisma GT driver Richard Burns, who has the psychological advantage of running on home ground.

This year's RAC Rally has a very different look. It is based in Cheltenham in western England for the first time and has a much more compact route than in the past, with no visit to the fiercesome stages in northern England and Scotland, but long forest stages in south Wales that have not been used on the rally for 11 years. In certain respects, it is more than familiar. The stages are a mixture of stately homes and race tracks on Sunday, before two days of hard driving in the renowned Welsh forests and the crowds are likely to be enormous. Thousands of fans flocked to Cheltenham Racecourse to catch a glimpse of their heroes on Saturday afternoon before the rally had even started and some of the Sunday stages are already sold out. Up to two million spectators watch the RAC, making it Britain's biggest sporting event.

Makinen is relaxed and confident as he faces the final test of a gruelling season. He has led the the title race since March and can only be beaten by Colin McRae. However, McRae must win the RAC with Makinen outside the points and therefore even a sixth place finish will confirm Mitsubishi's Finnish star as World Champion - a feat that is well within the vast capabilities of car and driver.

"There's always pressure when you go rallying, so that's normal. I don't have such a good record here, but I have a lot of experience in this country and I know many of the stages. I don't think it should be too difficult to finish in the top six, especially as the team has built me a new car," said Makinen. "The new stages in the third leg are fast and very slippery and I think even the last one will be difficult. I will go quite fast. The car is easier to drive that way."

The RAC will be a special occasion, as it is Makinen's last rally with his faithful co-driver Seppo Harjanne. In a seven-year partnership, the two have won 10 World Championship rallies as well as the 1996 world title.

"I am as sad as a schoolboy waiting for a summer holiday to start! I have a great bunch of friends in the sport and that is the only thing I am going to miss," said Harjanne, who also won the World Championship with Timo Salonen in 1985.

Richard Burns has been instructed to go onto the attack to make life as difficult as possible for McRae. His performances have improved steadily throughout the year and he intends to make the most of driving on familiar terrain.


"I want to win the rally and it would be fantastic to get my first win here, because it would make sure that Tommi is World Champion. I'm not going in with any expectations of repeating Australia or anything like that. If I just concentrate and drive my best, I should be in the top three. I just want to get tomorrow out of the way - I don't mind where I finish there - and then we have two days of serious competition in the forests," said Burns.

"It's been a long season, but a fantastic season for Mitsubishi. I'd like to pay tribute to the whole Mitsubishi Ralliart team. They've made sure that the cars are competitive and reliable," declared Team Mitsubishi Ralliart Team Manager Phil Short. "We have every confidence that Tommi can score the point he needs to become World Champion and we've given Richard free rein to go flat out and put pressure on Colin McRae."

The first leg is designed primarily for spectators and is much the shortest in terms of competitive distance. It includes 11 stages, totalling 59 kilometres, in a loop through the Midlands.

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


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Copyright 1997 by Mitsubishi Motors Corporation.