Team Mitsubishi Ralliart is aiming for a hat-trick of wins on the International Swedish Rally, the second round of the 1997 World Rally Championship, and is ideally placed to capitalise on the potential of its new car, the Lancer Evolution IV, and its 1996 World Championship-winning Finnish crew, Tommi Makinen and Seppo Harjanne.
TEAM MITSUBISHI RALLIART FACES SWEDISH RALLY
The Swedish is a unique challenge to World Rally Championship crews. It is the only event where snow and ice are practically guaranteed, and temperatures can drop to 30 degrees below zero. Indeed, it isn't unusual for stages to be run on frozen lakes! The bitter cold doesn't deter the fans in the least. Sweden has one of the highest percentages of rally drivers in the world and knowledgeable spectators trek into the forests in their thousands to witness the world's top drivers averaging in excess of 110 km/h between banks of packed snow, driving on heavily studded tyres that are so narrow that they wouldn't look out of place on a bicycle. Although it is certainly the most slippery, the Swedish is also one of the fastest rallies in the World Rally Championship. It is a breathtaking spectacle.
Fresh from an encouraging third place on the Monte Carlo Rally, the first round of the World Rally Championship, Makinen will be in his element in Sweden. He finished a close second for Mitsubishi in 1995, then scored a convincing victory in 1996 - and there is nothing a Finn likes better than to beat the top Swedish drivers on their home soil. "It is one of my favourite rallies and it has some good memories for me," said the 32-year-old from Puuppola. "Our new Lancer Evolution IV is very easy to drive and I think it will be really good."
Like Team Mitsubishi Ralliart, Michelin is used to success in Sweden. Its expertise in making the highly specialised tyres needed for low temperatures and slippery surfaces has played a crucial part in Mitsubishi's recent successes and Makinen's Evolution IV will be equiped with tyres from the French manufacturer.
Once again, Makinen will be joined by Uwe Nittel and Tina Thorner in the Team Mitsubishi Ralliart squad. The promising German driver gained useful experience and World Rally Championship points on Monte Carlo Rally, on his first event in a Group A Lancer Evolution III after a highly successful Group N season in 1996. The Lancer's performance will give him an excellent chance of challenging the leaders in Sweden, but opposition will be strong: the Swedish has one of the best entries seen in years, with no fewer than 27 FIA-seeded drivers.
Phil Short, Team Mitsubishi Ralliart's Team Manager, believes that tyres will be the key factor. "The tyre choice is a lot simpler than Monte Carlo, but the tyres themselves are unique," he explained. "It's not just a matter of compound and construction, but the way the studs are put in. We've done quite a lot of testing in Lapland with Lasse Lampi, our test driver, and it's been very encouraging. We have to be confident of a good result."
Mitsubishi is almost sure of victory in Group N, because all the leading drivers have chosen Lancer Evolution IIIs, but the tussle for production class honours is sure to be one of the highlights of the rally, for some of the most talented and most determined drivers in the rally are aiming for Group N success. Ralliart Germany is sending cars for the World Group N Champions, Gustavo Trelles/Jorge Del Buono, and the South Americans are joined by an Austro-German crew, Manfred Stohl/Dieter Schneppenheimer. However, they square up to fierce opposition from Kenneth Backlund andStig-Olov Walfridsson (both driving for Mitsubishi Ralliart Sweden) and top Finnish Mitsubishi drivers like Juha Kangas and Mika Korhonen. Despite the quality of the entry, it will be no surprise if the Group N winner finishes in the top 10.
Ingolf Raiss , Manager of Ralliart Germany , is well aware that his drivers face a daunting challenge: "Gustavo we know is a very good driver and Manfred showed in Monte Carlo that he is a good prospect, because he did a good job even though he didn't test the car much. It will be hard for our drivers in Sweden though - we will just try to do our best!".
This year's Swedish Rally features a number of innovations, including a stage in the streets of the host town, Karlstad, on Friday evening, February 7th. The overnight halt to the north has also been moved, from Falun to nearby Borlaenge, but the event will be fought out on familiar territory in the provinces of Vaermland and Dalarna.
The first leg, on February 8th, takes crews north to Borlaenge via a re-group in Fredriksberg and its eight special stages include the longest of event, at 44 kilometres. The second leg returns to Karlstad, pausing at Torsby for a re-group then making full use of the hilly roads close to the Norwegian border. It includes nine stages. The third and final leg is the shortest, looping north of Karlstad towards Sunne, but it includes six special stages and, on past form, the result could be in doubt until the Monday afternoon finish is practically in sight.
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Copyright 1997 by Mitsubishi Motors Corporation.