After the first leg of Rallye Monte-Carlo, the opening round of the 2005 FIA World Rally Championship season, the Mitsubishi Lancer WRC05 crews of Gilles/Herve Panizzi and Harri Rovanpera/Risto Pietilainen hold eighth and eleventh positions respectively.

"Gilles is showing his asphalt experience and set a powerful fourth position in the third stage," said Isao Torii, president of Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports. "He also began very well in the last stage, but then struggled with some handbrake problems.

"Harri has been driving carefully, as we agreed, and we have to remember this is a new car for him and it's his first tarmac rally since Sanremo in 2002. His times have improved throughout the day though, and I am comfortable with our positions for tomorrow."

The 73rd Rallye Monte-Carlo started in traditional fashion last night with crowds of people thronging the world-renowned Casino Square to witness the 34 entered crews cross the start ramp ahead of their campaign for honours in the oldest and most famous event in the FIA World Rally Championship.

However, this morning the first day of competitive action of the year took the crews northwest of the tiny Principality of Monaco for four demanding stages, two run twice. While conditions have been notably warmer this year, patches of ice on damp and dry roads have still kept the crews on their toes and required utter concentration over the treacherous mountain passes.

The Mitsubishi Lancer WRC05 crew of Gilles and Herv? Panizzi were tenth and seventh through the first two stages respectively, the French duo losing time early in the event with gear selection problems. Despite changing the gearbox at the mid-leg service, the French pair continued to suffer similar problems but nevertheless rapidly switched to the manual system and showed the potential of the car in the third stage by setting fourth fastest time. A broken handbrake in the final stage dropped them from seventh to eighth however.

"Generally I have to say I am happy," said Gilles. "It's not possible to compare the car this year with the one I drove last year. It is completely different and I think we are now at a very good level; we just have to sort a few small problems. We have had some trouble with the semi-automatic gear-shift today and I've had to switch to the manual system at times. The problem with the handbrake was frustrating in the last stage; half-way through it went and there was a sequence of maybe 20 or 30 hairpins where we obviously lost time. If I can get a clean run, I feel confident we can make some good times tomorrow."

Team-mates Rovanpera and Pietilainen started not only their first stage with the Mitsubishi team today, but also their first tarmac rally in more than two years. Blending caution with speed, the Finns had to contend with overheating brakes on the mountain roads this morning but have otherwise been focused on finishing their first rally with the team.

"Everything was fine for us, but yes, for sure I am being more careful than normal in every single corner," said Harri, who overnights in 11th position. "This is not one hundred percent because our goal is to finish, but I am learning and gaining confidence every kilometre and this is what is important. The feeling is good at this stage and everything is going to our plan. There is definitely good potential and I think we can make some progress quite quickly. Apart from choosing tyres that were too soft this morning, the Pirellis have been working well and I'm getting used to them."

Adding to his comments, technical director Mario Fornaris said: "Compared to last year's Monte, we can see that the reliability of the car has improved; some small problems today but nothing dramatic. The Pirelli tyres have performed well so far and considering we have a new car with a new gear-shifting system, a modified engine and a newly-developed chassis, overall everything is okay."

The second day of Rallye Monte-Carlo competition takes the crews to the north and northwest of Monaco for the longest leg of the rally. Five stages, two run twice, await the remaining contenders as they face another 128.48 kilometres of competition.



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