Telstra Rally Australia marks the penultimate round of the 2003 FIA Production Car World Rally Championship, but one of the favorites on the calendar is likely to throw up a totally different challenge for the crews who are making the long journey to the host city of Perth, the world's most remote city.

Even so, Mitsubishi drivers have a long history of success in the event and will be looking to extend the manufacturer's unbeaten record of successive Group N victories. And, with local hero Ed Ordynski joining World Championship stars such as Daniel Sola and Marcos Ligato in Mitsubishi Lancer Evolutions, there is every chance of another win when the rally ends on September 7.

In the past, the long journey to Perth has been all the more pleasurable due to the early springtime climate, blue skies and sunshine adding to the enjoyment of one of the acclaimed rallies in the FIA World Rally Championship. This year, however, Rally Australia has moved to a slot earlier in the season and during a month with typically higher rainfall. In fact, its date in the 2003 calendar is the earliest the event has ever run in the 14 years it has been part of the world series. The consequence of this could see a total change in the characteristic of the stages; the familiar and unique surface normally awash with ball-bearing shaped gravel possibly replaced by mud and deep ruts as the sandy base gives way to the end of the rainy season's weather.

The route for the 2003 event has also changed quite significantly, the introduction of new and revised stages opening up the competition to less experienced crews. In addition, these changes allow for one single service park - one of the key factors in modern-day rallying - at Jarrahdale, 70 kilometers south of Perth, and the raft of changes made, primarily due to the weather, also sees the demise of the world-famous Langley Park super special on the banks of the Swan River. In its place is a new spectator stage at Gloucester Park, the home of Perth's horse racing. The transformation of its single track race course into a dual-lane rally stage has taken contractors no fewer than four weeks, with more than 2,495 cubic meters of sand and 1,545 cubic meters of crushed rock being trucked into the facility to construct the 2.45 kilometer city-based crowd-pleaser.

Argentine driver Marcos Ligato has contested the rally before in his Lancer Evolution and is eager to revive his World Championship prospects on one of the series' most popular events.

"I think it will be a difficult rally this year," he said. "There are many changes to the route and we don't know about the weather. I shall be trying as hard as possible though".

Junior World Rally Champion Daniel Sol? was the winner on the last Production round in his Lancer Evolution, but knows that this is a very different challenge.

"This is a rally I don't know at all and that will make it harder to do well. I think maybe Ordynski is the quickest Mitsubishi driver here, but we don't have to worry about him for the World Championship points," Sola said.

Mitsubishi has plenty of other potential front-runners bidding for World Championship points, including Ulsterman Niall McShea, Peru's Ramon Ferreyros and Poland's Janusz Kulig, all driving Lancer Evolutions.

But Australia has long been a Mitsubishi stronghold and remarkably, South Australian Ordynski has taken the Group N prize in Perth no fewer than eight times. Mitsubishi can also rely on Spencer Lowndes and Australia-based Finn Juha Kangas.

The 2003 Rally Australia kicks off on Thursday evening with the first run at the new super special at Gloucester Park, but the real action out in the forests begins on Friday morning. The crews leave Perth at 08:19 hrs and head south of the city for the longest leg of the rally encompassing eight forest stages, before returning to Perth for a second run over the super special.

Saturday's second leg essentially covers two loops of four stages east of Perth and concludes with another two attempts at the city's super special.

On Sunday, the crews head to the traditional Sotico pine plantation for the concluding four stages and 117.11 competitive kilometers. World-famous for their spectacular jumps and watersplashes, these stages have, in the past, been the setting for some of the finest duels in the event's history.

In total, Rally Australia covers 24 special stages and 386.31 competitive kilometers in a total distance of 1,795.16 kilometers. The winning crews are expected to cross the finish ramp in Perth at 16:30 hrs (GMT +8).

Picture credits: Mitsubishi.



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