The FIA World Rally Championship contenders may be taking a well-earned rest from competition, but testing continues in anger with the start of the 2001 season just over five weeks away.

The Principality of Monaco may be chic, stylish and home to the rich and famous, but the Monte Carlo Rally, the season-opener, is one of the most treacherous and unpredictable on the calendar.

The new season will see the latest specification of the Championship-winning Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, which the team are currently putting through an arduous test and development programme.

While the car remains based on Group A regulations, much has changed as Mitsubishi moves towards its goal of building a full World Rally Car for the latter half of the season.

The 2001 Lancer Evolution incorporates:

* Body modifications to the rear wheel arches.
* Revised rear suspension.
* A lighter engine flywheel.

The 2001 car turned its wheels in anger in France last Monday (4 December) and the team, with Finnish test driver Lasse Lampi and regular Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart pilot Freddy Loix, have spent the last nine days honing the engine specification and suspension settings in preparation for the sixty-ninth Monte Carlo Rally, on the 19-21 January.

Although most of Europe should be settling into winter, weather conditions in France have been unseasonably warm and, despite moving between Grenoble, Nice and St. Maxime, the team, like all its rivals, have failed to find the expected snow and ice during 900 kilometres of testing.

"Testing has gone well and I think we have made a very good step," commented
Chief Engineer Bernard Lindauer. "We have made some wheel arch modifications to be able to increase the travel on the rear suspension, because with a four-door car we have been quite restricted in this area."

Lindauer described the effect of such improvements, "This has stopped a lot of the 'kick-back' we had before and made the car less nervous. We also have a lighter flywheel, which has reduced inertia and improved the engine response and gear-shift quality. Overall, the car is much more progressive and easier to drive."

"For us it is not a problem that we haven't found snow and ice because when we have to work on new developments, it's better to have good base conditions," Lindauer explained.

"We can then do the lower grip work required for snow and ice from the optimum dry set-up when we do our final confirmation test in January." Lindauer continued, "With the base settings, we can then do the same for the snow and gravel evolutions in Lapland and Portugal in the coming weeks."

Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart now head north, towards the Arctic Circle and Lapland to be precise, for its first full snow test with four-time World Rally Champion, Tommi Makinen, on December 16-21.