The Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports FIA World Rally Championship campaign for 2005 kicks off this week when team newcomers Harri Rovanpera and Risto Pietilainen join Gilles and Herve Panizzi for the start of Rallye Monte-Carlo, the traditional season-opening event.

Both crews will be piloting the Mitsubishi Lancer WRC05 in what is considered to be one of the most unpredictable and treacherous rallies of the 16-round series that will take the six registered manufacturers to all four corners of the globe.

Commenting on the season ahead, Isao Torii, president of Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports said: "We are starting with the newly developed Lancer WRC05 and from our tests everything is going well and we are feeling confident for the first half of the season.

"The car has a wider chassis and our own damper system, which was first tested in Catalunya last year. We will also be using the semi-automatic gear-shift for the first time in Monte-Carlo, as well as a further developed engine with a new waste gate, anti-lag and modified turbo-charger.

"We will focus mainly on development and reliability and the next step, also in the first half of the season, will be the active differential system. We will see how things go, but in the second half of the season we hope to be fighting for podium places."

Rovanpera and Risto Pietilainen spearhead the team's assault this season, the Finnish crew registered to contest all 16 rounds in the Lancer WRC05. Rovanpera first contested this famous event, which is running for the 73rd year, back in 1997 and claimed third in the World 2-Litre category in his first outing. He matched this result the following year before graduating to world rally car machinery and finishing seventh overall in 1999. The last time he and co-driver Pietilainen contested the event was in 2002, although an accident on the treacherous French mountain roads forced them into an early retirement.

"This is a difficult rally, for sure, but also for me it will be my first tarmac event since Sanremo in 2002; a long time ago," commented Rovanpera. "Monte-Carlo is always hard, but this year I also have a new car and tyres so there are many things to feel a little bit nervous about.

"I hope the weather is snowy, but each year the rally gets closer and closer to Monaco so we will have to see. It's difficult to say what is possible because there are so many different factors specific to this event; Monte is Monte, that's all I can say!

"The feeling with the team is very good though. It is small, but because of this I already know everyone, and after the Swedish test I had a very nice feeling about everything."

Team-mates Gilles and Herv? Panizzi are considered to be among the fastest in the world on asphalt, although the French rallying brothers concede that Monte-Carlo is one of the trickiest events in the series and luck plays an enormous part in success. Gilles made his debut in the World Championship in this event in 1990, finishing fourth in Group N, but he has yet to claim victory in his home mountains. From a total of eight outings, his best results have been a World 2-Litre victory in 1998 and sixth overall with the Mitsubishi Lancer WRC04 last year.

"We have made a lot of progress with the car since last year, but it is impossible to say how we can do in Monte-Carlo," said Gilles. "It is such a different and difficult event that anything can happen. Also we are running for the first time with Pirelli tyres, so this is something very new for us. We will see, but for sure there is also a lot of luck involved with this rally. We will be aiming for a good result with the Lancer WRC05 in the first event of the new season though."

The tiny principality of Monaco is the traditional host of the opening round of the FIA World Rally Championship and no fewer than six manufacturers will be present with two car teams. It is also a qualifying round of the FIA Junior World Rally Championship and uniquely the only event in the series that restricts entries to world rally cars and Super 1600 cars.

It is renowned as the most specialised event in the calendar where everything can prove to be a lottery. Dry and wet Tarmac roads, snow and ice - sometimes all in one stage - make tyre choice incredibly difficult and advance weather information very critical. Drivers will therefore welcome the return of their gravel note crews on what is anticipated to be the only event where they are permitted this year.

New this season is the restriction on the number of engines allowed. Each of the 16 events is paired with another, and only one engine per manufacturer car can be used per two rallies. Therefore, engines used in Monte-Carlo must also be run in Sweden.

"We have done a three-day test, both with Gilles and Harri, and everything is going very well ahead of Monte-Carlo," commented the team's technical director, Mario Fornaris. "Gilles spent the first day setting up the car and we have spent the other days tyre testing; something that is very important with our new partner, Pirelli. Gilles is very satisfied and the performance of the tyres in certain conditions is extremely good.

"The tyre regulations for Monte-Carlo say we must run on 18" rims and can only have three tread patterns instead of four. For the team this is good because with the small tyres it becomes complicated with changing suspension settings for different conditions. Sure, it is maybe more tricky for the drivers. And I don't see any problems with the new engine regulations either. In the past we have run one engine during a rally and then used the same one for testing, so we know we can run high mileage with our engines anyway."

Casino Square hosts the ceremonial start on Thursday January 20, but the real action on the shortest and historically most compact Rallye Monte-Carlo starts on Friday morning. All servicing will also be held in Monte-Carlo's harbour for the first time and the route never takes the crews further than 50 kilometres from the principality. The opening leg covering 108.52 competitive kilometres is the shortest and takes in four stages, the longest of the event (Lantosque-Col de Braus at 32.71 km) run twice.

Five stages and 128.48 competitive kilometres lay in wait on Saturday's longest leg before the finale on Sunday which also includes two runs over the famous Col de Turini. The final leg covers two loops of three stages and 116.08 competitive kilometres.

In total, the route - which has changed considerably - covers five different stages, 15 in total, and 353.07 competitive kilometres.



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