The 2004 FIA Production Car World Rally Championship reaches fever point this coming week when four crews will be vying for the series title in the final round of the Championship, Rally Australia [November 12-14]. Jani Paasonen, who drives a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution with the OMV World Rally Team, currently has a two-point lead in the series and will be totally focused on claiming his first-ever World title.

Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution drivers have claimed emphatic victories in all six rounds of the FIA Production Car World Rally Championship this year, and Paasonen took the maximum points in Sweden and Argentina.

Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports driver Dani Sola won in Mexico, while fellow Lancer Evolution driver Xavier Pons took honours in Germany and Corsica, and Manfred Stohl in New Zealand. Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution drivers have also claimed this category world title no fewer than seven times in the past nine years.

Warm weather and a warm welcome have long made Rally Australia one of the highlights of the calendar and a thrilling four-man battle for the FIA PWRC will be the talking point of the 2004 event. It will be a tense confrontation, all the more so because the forest roads around Perth on Australia's west coast are not only very quick, but notoriously slippery. Straying even a fraction off-line on the ball-bearing shaped gravel risks an accident and it is a challenge that places a premium on driving skill and bravery.

Twenty-nine-year-old Finn Paasonen has a reputation for bravery and knows that the event has long favored Finns. He has every confidence too in his Lancer Evolution and understands that second place will be enough to crown him FIA Production Car World Champion.

"I am looking forward to the rally very much," he said. "It will be a big fight of course, but I like these roads and I am sure we can do well. We don't have to win, but we have to attack. I have to stay concentrated."

Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports driver Sola - who finished a fine sixth overall in his Lancer WRC04 last week in Spain - has been one of the pacesetters all season and although bad luck has knocked him out of the Championship fight, he is sure to be one of the drivers to beat in his Lancer Evolution.

"This year I wanted to prove that I am fast on gravel as well as tarmac, and Australia is a very good rally for that," said Sola. "I will be going at maximum from the start!"

Sola could well find himself battling for victory with Mitsubishi team-mate 'Gigi' Galli as well as Paasonen, for Galli also possesses a blistering turn of speed in his Lancer Evolution. The Italian finished hot on Sola's heels in Spain, seventh overall in another Lancer WRC04.

"Australia is a rally I don't know so well, but it is very difficult and a very nice rally," said Gigi. "I want to prove that I can win anywhere, so it will be very good experience for me."

Mitsubishi can rely on a formidable array of talent, including Spaniard Xavier Pons - who could have been a series contender if he had nominated the event as one of his scoring rounds. Former World Group N Cup Champion Manfred Stohl will be another to watch, as well as Japan's Fumio Nutahara.

Rally Australia kicks off with a super special stage in Perth on Thursday November 11, but the forestry action starts on Friday when the crews tackle another eight stages, the leg rounded off with another two runs around the super special. Saturday's competition takes in a further ten stages and 127.15 competitive kilometres, while the final leg on Sunday will see the crews fighting for honours over the closing six stages and 127.83 competitive kilometres. In total, Rally Australia covers 25 special stages and 388.25 competitive kilometres in a total distance of 1,426.56 kilometres.

 

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