The Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports team completed its final preparations for the only true winter event in the FIA World Rally Championship, but reported that a change in conditions has made the event more unpredictable than expected.

The regular crew of Gilles and Herv? Panizzi will be partnered by Finns Kristian Sohlberg and Kaj Lindstr?m in the second Mitsubishi Lancer WRC04 on the Uddeholm Swedish Rally which, at its best, provides some of the most spectacular action of the year, with the drivers leaning the cars on the deep snow banks to great effect as they power through the forests of central Sweden.

However, there has been a thaw of late, with the snow was melting and temperatures rising to eleven degrees Centigrade as drivers carried out their final pre-rally checks in Hagfors this morning. Ice and gravel make grip unpredictable and put extreme stress on studded tyres designed for snow and, while more snow is expected, it remains to be seen if it arrives before the start of the event on Friday.

Panizzi is competing in the event for only the second time and the 38-year old Frenchman is looking to the experience of team-mate Sohlberg to aid his challenge.

"I will be looking to Kristian for his very good experience in this rally, and I hope we can do the maximum number of kilometres to learn even more," Panizzi said, "The feeling is coming, but I need more experience here. I am driving a little under the limit, not pushing too much because I don't want to make mistakes. I prefer to learn a little more slowly, get better and better each day and actually finish the rally. However, the balance is good and the set-up here is actually better than it was in Monte Carlo. The car is very easy to drive."

Team-mate Sohlberg is not only competing with co-driver Kaj Lindstr?m for the first time, but is also making his first competitive outing with the team as a full factory driver.

"I have to confess to being a bit nervous before the shakedown this morning but, once I had completed my first run, it was fine," he admitted, "Also, I know I don't have to produce big miracles because we are all still learning, developing and looking to the future.

"We did a lot of work on the suspension at the shakedown and step-by-step the feeling has got better and everything is now working well. There is not so much snow on the stages, but plenty of ice and also some quite bad bits of gravel. Unless it snows more, it will be a hard rally for choosing the tyres, but our position on the road means there should be better grip on the gravel. But it can also make the tyre choice harder because you have to predict how much of the gravel will be showing through by the time we run the stage. We'll see, but it won't be so easy."

Commenting on the team's Swedish challenge, MMSP technical director Mario Fornaris said that he expected a solid run despite being only two weeks into the new season.

"Every time we run the car, we learn something more but, with such a short time between Monte Carlo and this event, we still have some of the same problem," he explained, "Even so, we learned a lot in Monte Carlo and the drivers say there is already an improvement and they are happy. Our objective is again to get the cars to the finish and to learn yet more."

The Swedish Rally kicks off this evening with a ceremonial start in the centre of Karlstad, before the crews leave the city at 0630hrs on Friday for the 85km drive to Hagfors, the service area and the opening leg of competition.

 

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