The 2004 FIA Production Car World Rally Championship looks set to be the most fiercely contested in years, with no fewer than 20 drivers registering for the seven round series.

A host of former factory drivers, junior and production car champions have committed to the championship and the title will be fought out between Mitsubishi, Subaru and Proton crews from 15 different countries.

This year, the series once again takes the crews around the world, with events in Sweden, Mxxico [March], New Zealand [April], Argentina [July], Germany [August], Corsica [October] and Australia [November].

No fewer than ten of the registered crews will be bidding to regain the title of a series Mitsubishi has dominated for years. In this world Group N production car category, Mitsubishi's record is unmatched and includes seven consecutive titles from 1995 to 2001 with the Lancer Evolution.

In this season's series, Mitsubishi will be represented by Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports works drivers, former Junior World Rally Champion 'Dani' Sola, and 'Gigi' Galli, who will drive for Ralliart Italy to launch a powerful assault on the 2004 FIA Production World Rally Championship. The Group N Lancer Evolutions will be prepared by Ralliart Italia. Both the Spaniard and Italian will also be driving Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports' Lancer WRC04 on selected rounds of the World Rally Championship.

Notwithstanding, Finland's Jani Paasonen, a former factory driver with Mitsubishi, has also chosen the previously all-conquering Lancer Evolution as his challenger for the season, along with 2000 Production Car World Rally Champion Manfred Stohl. Japan's Fumio Nutahara, a long-time Mitsubishi campaigner, has also registered for the first time.

Performance and reliability have made the Lancer Evolution the car to beat in the past, but the opposition is stronger than ever and the opening round of the series, in Sweden, is uniquely demanding. Fresh from his encouraging performance in Monte-Carlo, Gigi Galli is keener than ever to demonstrate that he can be just as competitive on a pure snow rally in his Lancer Evolution.

"The Swedish is a fantastic rally for a driver," said the Italian, who has competed in the event three times. "It is so different from anywhere else and I want to show that I can be fast in any conditions, but I think this will be one of the toughest rallies of the year for me."

2002 Junior World Champion Dani Sola is competing on unfamiliar terrain and is just as determined to make a strong impression in his Lancer Evolution.

"The Swedish is a rally that is always fun. I had quite a good result last year and I want to use my experience to finish better this time. With a car like the Lancer, this is a real opportunity for me," Sola commented.

Nordic drivers are rarely beaten in these conditions and one of the most formidable Mitsubishi drivers is sure to be Finland's Jani Paasonen.

"I have won the production class here before, so I have a good feeling for the rally. It is important to win here if possible!" said Jani.

Mitsubishi can also depend on drivers of the caliber of former Production Car World Rally Champion Manfred Stohl and Pole Tomasz Kuchar, with newcomer Sebastian Vollak getting his first taste of World Championship competition. Such is the popularity of the Swedish Rally that no fewer than 18 of the 20 registered crews have nominated this as one of their points-scoring events of the season.

The Production Car World Rally Championship contenders will however have to be on peak form to win the Group N class on this rally; for Mitsubishi has a powerful following in Sweden and a host of non-registered drivers will be taking part. Former winners, such as Kenneth Backlund and Stig-Olov Walfridsson, along with Oscar Svedlund, will all be in action in this true winter event. Even finishing in the top three will be some achievement.

 

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