1997 INTERNATIONAL SWEDISH RALLY
Friday February 7
MITSUBISHI LANCER DRIVER MAKINEN LEADS SWEDISH RALLY
Team Mitsubishi driver Tommi Makinen blasted into the lead on the first stage of the Swedish Rally in his Mitsubishi Lancer, as Sweden's Stig-Olov Walfridsson grabbed the lead of the Group N production category in his Lancer.
Makinen skated over a frozen river in Karlstad to share the lead with Swede Tomas Radstrom. "It's unfortunate that the weather has turned so much of the ice to water, but it was really good for spectators," said the flying Finn.
"That was good. The car is perfect, but I have a fever and I am freezing," said Walfridsson. "It will be really fast, because there is not much snow, but it also means there are a lot of stones and we have to be careful to avoid punctures."
Once the rally begins in earnest on Saturday morning, the Team Mitsubishi Ralliart crews face a unique challenge on the only true winter qualifier for the World Rally Championship. Conditions are less than ideal, with temperatures well above zero and a consequent absence of snow. Indeed, gravel is showing through most of the rally's eastern stages - which could have a big impact on the longest leg of the four-day, 1,620-kilometre event.
The lack of snow won't deter thousands of Swedish fans from trekking deep into the forests to witness the spectacle of the world's top drivers reaching speeds of up to 160 km/h, driving with absolute commitment on roads so slippery that walking is difficult, let alone driving. The rally is a winter festival for the public, who light fires to ward off the penetrating cold - the temperature can drop with surprising speed to 10 or 20 degrees below zero. Enterprising householders sell sausages and coffee, while enthusiastic local radio stations provide up to the minute information.
Tyre choice will be the critical factor, according to Team Mitsubishi Ralliart's Team Manager, Phil Short. "In Monte Carlo, the cars were the unknown factor, here it's the tyres. There's no question that the tyre that retains its studs best over a long distance will win this rally," he explained. Michelin's remarkable record boosts the team's confidence, which is already high after encouraging tests of the new Mitsubishi Lancer.
"Tommi's feeling is that the car is much better. We tested in December in Lapland for a week and he was absolutely delighted with it. We did another test in January to confirm the studding. Tommi feels very comfortable with the car : it's very easy to drive," Phil Short added.
Makinen, the regning World Rally Champion, commented: "Conditions are quite a lot faster than norrmal, because there are no snowbanks. This year the stages will be wider and I think it will be more equal for all the teams."
Makinen is supported once more by Uwe Nittel and Tina Thorner, driving also a Mitsubishi Lancer. It will be the young German driver's first taste of a Group A car in Sweden and he plans to take things steadily. "A Group A car is totally different to a Group N car and it is important that I finish and gain experience," he said.
Saturday is the longest day of the rally, with almost 590 kilometres to be covered before the overnight halt in Borlaenge and another 166 kilometres of stages, including the longest of the event, the daunting 44 kilometres of Jutbo. It will be colder further north and snow is forecast for Sunday, which could easily make a big impact on the leaderboard.
OVERALL CLASSIFICATION AFTER SS 1
1.T. MAKINEN/S. HARJANNE FIN/FIN MITSUBISHI LANCER 1.42 1.T. RADSTROM/L. BACKMAN S/S TOYOTA CELICA 1.42 3.C. SAINZ/L. MOYA E/E FORD ESCORT 1.43 3.J. KYTOLEHTO/A. KAPANEN FIN/FIN FORD ESCORT 1.43 5.C.MCRAE/N. GRIST GB/GB SUBARU 1.46 5.A. SCHWARZ/D. GIRAUDET D/F FORD ESCORT 1.46 7.K. ERIKSSON/S. PARMANDER S/S SUBARU 1.47 7. T. JANSSON/P.O.SVENSSON S/S TOYOTA CELICA 1.47 9. M.GRONHOLM/T.RAUTIAINEN FIN/FIN TOYOTA CELICA 1.49 9. M.JONSSON/J.JOHANSSON S/S FORD ESCORT 1.49 9. M.THORSZELIUS/N.FRANSSON S/S TOYOTA CELICA 1.49 12.U. NITTEL/T. THORNER D/S MITSUBISHI LANCER 1.50
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Copyright 1997 by Mitsubishi Motors Corporation.