The Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports team scored points in its debut outing back in the FIA World Rally Championship. Gilles and Herv? Panizzi piloted the all-new Lancer WRC04 back to Monaco in sixth position in Rallye Monte Carlo, claiming points for themselves and the team in their first event as a new partnership.

The 2004 Rallye Monte-Carlo has been typically tough and the field was decimated from 43 to just 20 by the time the crews arrived back in Monaco yesterday [Sunday] afternoon. The final leg took in just four stages and 104.40 competitive kilometres, but it was certainly no cruise to the finish. Two loops of two stages lay in wait, the first of each being the run through Sospel-Turini-La Bollene where fans in their thousands camp out overnight, generating a party atmosphere on the top of the world-famous Col de Turini. The 32.58 kilometre stage was however surprisingly clear of snow, just a five kilometre section on the final descent being covered in sheet ice. Lantosque-Luceram, the second of these two stages, was however completely dry, for once making tyre choice comparatively straight forward.

The Mitsubishi crew of Gilles and Herv? Panizzi were seventh and sixth fastest through the first two stages respectively, despite the French Lancer WRC04 driver dropping a bit of time to his rivals.

"I could not push because we had a problem with the front shock absorbers in stage 12," commented Gilles, seventh overall after stage 13. After replacement units were fitted during service, the pair went on to set fifth fastest time in the last two stages and climbed into sixth position when reigning World Champion Petter Solberg dropped back with front suspension damage.

"I am very happy," added Gilles. "We did not make a lot of testing and of course we are all completely surprised we have not had more problems the first time the car has run in these conditions. To finish and score points is very good. I am confident with the team and the car, and this is the start of a new chapter in my motorsport career; I have found a good team."

For Mario Fornaris, technical director, the result has far exceeded expectations: "The target was to finish the rally and get more kilometres on the car; we did that and achieved it successfully with good reliability."

Adding to his comments, Sven Quandt, MMSP's head of motorsport, said: "To have scored points like this, when the car is still so new and we also have new drivers, is quite exceptional; we are delighted with the team success in our first event back in the World Rally Championship. Last weekend we won the Dakar Rally and today [Sunday] we have made a successful return to the WRC. Points have been a great bonus. These results demonstrate Mitsubishi's commitment to motorsport."

The second round of the FIA World Rally Championship takes the contenders to the snowy forests of Scandinavia for the Uddeholm Swedish Rally [February 6-8]. Twenty-six-year old Finn Kristian Sohlberg joins Gilles Panizzi in the Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports team, the pair piloting the two registered Lancer WRC04s. Sweden is also the first qualifying round of the seven-event FIA Production Car World Rally Championship and 18 crews have nominated this as one of their points-scoring rallies. Both 'Dani' Sol? and 'Gigi' Galli will be piloting Mitsubishi Group N machinery with Ralliart Italia in what is set to be a highly-competitive series.

 

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