The Mitsubishi Lancer WRC05 crew of Gilles and Herve Panizzi set the team's first fastest stage time since 2002 this afternoon and climbed into fifth position at the end of the second leg of Rallye Monte-Carlo, the opening round of the FIA World Rally Championship.

The French pair started the day on a charge and had a trouble-free run through the longest leg of the event, setting a blistering time in the penultimate stage to claim the victory.

Team newcomers Harri Rovanper? and Risto Pietilainen continue to learn the car and their first Monte-Carlo rally in three years. They hold seventh, demonstrating that a solid performance can reap results.

"What a great day for Mitsubishi Motors!" said Isao Torii, president of Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports. "Gilles' best time in stage eight was the first since Jani Paasonen won a stage in New Zealand in 2002, and the second fastest time in stage nine was as incredible. That proves that Mitsubishi is back and the break last year was the right decision. My thanks go to all the team members, Gilles and Herve; it is great motivation and reward for everyone's hard work."

Thirty-three of the original 34 contenders restarted the second day of Rallye Monte-Carlo this morning and the longest leg of the event took them over five stages and 128.48 kilometres of grueling competition on the roads in the Alpes-Maritimes.

"It is a pleasure to have proved that in these conditions, our newly-developed package - car, driver and tyres - could be the best!" said the team's technical director Mario Fornaris.

The all-French crew of Gilles and Herve Panizzi started today's action hot on the pace and the crew set their second fourth fastest time through the opening 32.62 kilometre stage from Col de Braus to Lantosque.

Throughout the day they have demonstrated the pace of the Lancer WRC05 and the progress that is being made through relentless test and development work. They moved into sixth position after stage six, having claimed fifth position in the stage. And, in the penultimate stage of the day, they powered over the 19.52 kilometre mountain road in darkness to claim the team's first stage victory, overhauling Markko Martin in the process.

In the final stage they were second to overnight leader Sebastien Loeb and, back in Monte-Carlo, the rallying brothers hold station in fifth, 27.6 seconds adrift of fourth-placed former World Rally Champion Petter Solberg.

"I said yesterday that if we get a clean run, we can prove that Mitsubishi is back!" said Gilles. "I am so happy; that result was so necessary for everyone. Before our fastest time I was very content to be repeating our fourth fastest time; that was great and it really proved something. To have then achieved what we did this afternoon was something special for the team and I am more and more confident. I love driving in the dark too. It reminds me of Monte-Carlo rallies 10 years ago; I get a big adrenaline rush! Tomorrow we will be driving to the maximum again and hopefully we can catch Petter."

Team-mates Rovanpera and Pietilainen continue to gain experience of the Mitsubishi Lancer WRC05 and are on target to reach their goal of finishing their first rally with the team. They have moved up the leaderboard with a steady performance and hold seventh going into the final leg.

"We have had quite an okay day, a few small problems but nothing major," said Harri at final service. "At the beginning of the last stage the car got away from me on some gravel in a corner and we went wide and hit a wall, just damaging the back-end. After that, I wasn't prepared to take any risks in the darkness. I'm learning a lot and looking to the future; I will bring the car to the finish tomorrow and maybe a result will be there too."

Fornaris concluded: "It's a fantastic feeling to be in a position to fight with the best in the world. This is the reward for a year's incredible work. My thanks go to all the team for staying with us in previously difficult times."

The final leg of Rallye Monte-Carlo takes the remaining crews over two loops of three stages, including the famous run over the Col de Turini where thousands of spectators are expected.

 

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