The Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports team heads to Scandinavia this week for the second round of the FIA World Rally Championship, the Uddeholm Swedish Rally providing yet another new challenge for the Lancer WRC04.

The all-French crew of Gilles and Herve Panizzi will be joined by Finns Kristian Sohlberg and Kaj Lindstrom, and the team's focus will be to build on its successful debut performance in Monte-Carlo.

The second round of the FIA World Rally Championship is hosted in yet another unique setting and provides a totally different test for the crews. Based in its traditional home of Karlstad, 250 kilometres west of Stockholm, the Swedish Rally is the wintriest event in the 16-round series.

In recent years conditions have gradually changed, but sub-zero temperatures and frozen ground are almost guaranteed, although less snow-fall has however become more and more of a significant factor. At its best, temperatures plunge to minus 30 degrees Celsius and deep snow trails make it one of the most spectacular events in the series.

Milder weather results in fewer snow banks, traditionally used by the drivers to scrub speed, and if patches of gravel begin to show through, the retention of tungsten studs in the tyres can become an issue.

For many, the prospect of driving at speed on snow is unthinkable, but the use of studded tyres makes this event one of the fastest of the year. It is a rally in which Mitsubishi has had considerable success, in association with tyre partner Michelin, but whatever the conditions, thousands of rally fans still pour into the stages and make it the most popular event in the country.

Thirty-eight-year-old Gilles Panizzi has only previously contested the event once [2002] so this fast and snowy challenge will not only be new to the Lancer WRC04, but as good as to the Frenchman. Despite a points-scoring finish with Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports in Monte-Carlo last weekend, Gilles is however totally realistic about the team's chances in Sweden with little if any time for further development.

"For me, I have less experience in this rally because I have only done it one time," commented Gilles. "Sweden is too close for any further development and it's difficult for the engineers to improve the car or to adapt to different solutions for this event. I think if we can finish the Monte, we can finish the Swedish Rally though. I will be looking to Kristian for his very good experience in this rally and I hope we can do the maximum of kilometres to learn even more."

"Mexico will probably see the beginning of the advancements in the car," continued Gilles. "We have more time, one month, and two big gravel tests before then; that's important for us and we need that time. We will also have dedicated time at Mira [UK] with the engine specialists and that will help enormously."

Team-mate Sohlberg, who is competing with co-driver Lindstrom for the first time, has three Swedish outings to his name, all of which have been in Mitsubishi machinery. Despite retiring in his first event [2001], he won the Production Car World Rally Championship category the following year and was 12th overall in the team's WRC2 car in 2003.

"I'm looking forward to the rally as you might say it's my first event as a real works driver," commented Sohlberg. "We are still lacking time with testing but we were all very pleased to see Gilles get the car to the finish in Monte-Carlo and claim points. This is good for everyone and helps the engineers gain more data for the on-going development work. Our objective in Sweden will be to go for the finish and of course it is a good event for me to start with the team. If the car works as we hope, I think we can do some decent times and maybe surprise a few people in some stages."

"It's a fast rally, a drivers event because we go so fast and there is not so much room for mistakes," added Kristian. "Apparently there should be a lot of snow which makes it more interesting because you can lean on the banks and maybe overdrive a bit, but that is not really the case for us this year; we must take it easy, get to the finish and learn."

Commenting on the team's progress, Mario Fornaris, technical director of MMSP noted: "The car specification in Sweden will be very similar to Monte-Carlo as there is no time to do any modifications. But I feel confident about the team; we learned a lot about the car last weekend so everyone is more confident."

The International Swedish Rally kicks off on the evening of Thursday February 5 with a ceremonial start in the centre of Karlstad, a colourful affair that traditionally draws crowds of rally fans.

Friday morning however the crews leave the city at 06:30 hrs for the 85 kilometre drive to Hagfors to the service area and opening leg of competition. Five stages and 145.80 competitive lay in wait, the last of which is the now traditional 1.86 kilometre super special.

Saturday's leg also starts from Karlstad and takes in eight stages over a long day that starts at 05:30 hrs and finishes back in the host city at 19:36 hrs. The final leg is by far the shortest with just 96.60 competitive kilometres over six stages.

In total, the Swedish Rally covers 19 stages over 395.80 competitive kilometres in a total distance of 1,981.68 kilometres. The crews arrive back in Karlstad for the finish at 16:38 hrs [GMT+1] on Sunday, February 8.

 

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