The Mitsubishi Motors WRC team demonstrated the pace and potential of the Lancer WRC04 on Rally Catalunya, the team's first World Championship outing since Germany in August.

Between them, Gilles Panizzi, Daniel Sola and Gianluigi Galli claimed no fewer than 19 top six fastest stage times, with all three drivers securing a top four stage time over the course of the weekend.

To cap off a fine return to the championship, both Sola and Galli ended the rally in points scoring positions - and Sola could have been higher had it not been for a spin during the second leg that cost him 25 seconds and a scare at the end of the final leg when he had a small fire under the bonnet of his Lancer WRC.

Luckily the Spaniard, and co-driver Xavier Amigo, were able to push the car into service where the team carried out repairs and replaced the fuel injection line and despite picking up a ten second time penalty, Sola secured sixth place - his best ever WRC finish.

"Despite this last-minute scare, this is still a special moment for me," Sola said. "I really enjoyed the support from my home spectators and didn't want to let them down, but I had to mix this feeling with doing my job, finishing the rally, being fast and consistent during this important competitive test for the team."

Galli set the fifth fastest time in SS17 and was equal fifth on the final stage with rally winner Markko Martin - ending the rally 10.2 seconds behind Sola. With Sola's penalty, the two youngsters were split by just two-tenths of a second after 384km of competitive action.

"I'm very, very happy," Galli said. "Our goal was to finish, but we have also done so in a good position. It's not so much of a surprise as the car and my confidence has improved a lot. We have helped the team, not fought with Dani and made any mistakes, so for this I am happy."

Having lost time on the opening day through a wrong tyre choice, Panizzi finished the event down in twelfth place having used the event as a testing session to work on the Lancer WRC, which returns for a full season of competition in 2005.

President of Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports Isao Torii admitted that the team had headed to Spain to test the Lancer in a competitive environment, but he was delighted to see the car running near to the pace.

"I have to say thank you to the whole team; the mechanics, engineers, drivers, everyone," he said. "Rally Catalunya was a test event for us, but the big effort that has been made over the past weeks has resulted in a great team success. All three cars finished the rally, the reliability of the Lancer WRC04 is proved and we are closer to our rivals than before. We have showed the potential of the team and car, so we will continue this way to prepare for the 2005 season."

Technical Director Mario Fornaris was also a happy man, and full of praise for the teams two young stars.

"We have all worked very hard over the last two years and this rally was a good payback," he said. "The new suspension worked well and this event was proof of the development progress we have made. Our young drivers have performed well; fast, consistent and with no mistakes. I also have to say thank you to Gilles who has worked so hard during recent months and it is him who provided the platform for us.

"After a very good start to the event, when he was third overall, he was not able to capitalise on what he has achieved during the test and development work. Without him though, it would not have been possible to show our performance. Finally, Ralliart Italy has also helped us to prepare and run Gigi's car, enabling us to gather even more data."

 

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