Mitsubishi sets sights high in Portugal


Team Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart is in Portugal this week for the Rali Transiberico, the second round of the 2008 FIA Cross-Country Rally World Cup. Mitsubishi Motors Corporation (MMC) and its motorsport unit MMSP have entered a line-up of two Pajero/Montero Evolution MPR13s for Stéphane Peterhansel/Jean-Paul Cottret (France) and Luc Alphand/Gilles Picard (France), while Joan 'Nani' Roma/Lucas Cruz (Spain) will drive a diesel-powered Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero Evolution MPR14.

The five-day event - which starts in Mafra, northwest of Lisbon, on Wednesday May 21, and ends in Estoril, west of the Portuguese capital, on Sunday May 25 - features a total distance of 2,743.71km, including 1,442.48km of against-the-clock action through central Portugal divided into nine stages. Overnight halts are scheduled in Castelo Branco and Evora, but competitors will also cross the Spanish border briefly to spend a night in Badajoz.

In addition to the team's bid to go one better than the second places it secured on this event in 2006 and 2007, Team Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart will also be out to profit from the week to continue important development with the diesel version of the Pajero/Montero Evolution, the MPR14 which made its debut on April's Central Europe Rally (CER) in the hands of Hiroshi Masuoka (Japan). "The new car is improving with every test, and its first competitive outing on the CER was very encouraging, even though it was halted prematurely when Hiroshi's co-driver Pascal Maimon (France) fractured his ankle in a freak accident," recalls team boss Dominique Serieys. "We stayed on an extra day near Lake Balaton to do some additional testing which proved very fruitful. Therefore, Nani's primary mission in this rally will be to add to the valuable data we brought back from Hungary."

Roma was given the opportunity to put the diesel-powered car through its paces in France before travelling out to the Estoril start. The Spaniard's first impressions of the new car were particularly enthusiastic. "It's clearly got potential," he reports, "although it does call for a different driving style to that of the petrol MPR13. It's quieter, for example, and the fact that the new engine is turbocharged means that the power is delivered differently, so you've got to bear that in mind all the time. I'm very much looking forward to playing my part in its development, but it would also be nice if I could improve on my two previous second places I have scored on the Rali Transiberico! It's a rally I really enjoy and I think we should be competitive again this time round."

Team-mate Luc Alphand lists the Transiberico as one of his favourite non-African cross-country rallies and believes that the combination of Team Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart's experience and the reliability of the Pajero/Montero Evolution will be his biggest ally in his bid for top honours this week. "Last month's Central Europe Rally was our first competitive outing since the UAE Desert Challenge in November 2007 so it took a little time to get back into the groove, but this time we should be match fit," predicts the Frenchman whose two previous attempts at the Portuguese fixture harvested third and fourth places in 2006 and 2007 respectively. "I like the stages, and the length of each leg where the true cross-country rally spirit and the endurance factor - for the cars and crews alike - are respected. We've got to be aiming for a top-two finish."

Strictly speaking, this week will mark Stéphane Peterhansel's debut on the Transiberico. However, the French driver is swift to point out that his very first rally in Mitsubishi's colours was the event's ancestor: the Portuguese Baja, in 2002. "The spirit of the two events obviously differs," observes the three-time Dakar winner, "but I understand that the terrain is similar and the organisation just as slick. Luc and Nani tell me that the stages are twisty and quite slippery, but also fairly smooth and very reminiscent of a World Rally Championship round, so they should be a big pleasure to drive. They are also very long: four of the nine stages exceed 200km, so it will be vital to pace ourselves. We profited from a drive day in Hungary after the Central Europe Rally to make some fine-tuning adjustments on our Pajero/Montero Evolution and I believe we should have a competitive package that will enable us to chase a victory."

The 2008 Rali Transiberico kicks off on Wednesday evening (May 21) with a ceremonial start in the small town of Mafra, northwest of Lisbon, followed by a short super-special (7.38km). The action continues on Thursday with two 207.49km stage en route to the first overnight halt in Castelo Branco, close to the border with Spain.

Competitors will spend Friday night in the Spanish town of Badajoz after two runs of the 140.58km stage near Valverde des Fresno. The next to last leg will bring them back to Portugal (Evora) via two passes of a 204.40km run near Mora. The final day features two 65.08km stages before the official finish in the casino resort of Estoril on Sunday afternoon (May 25).

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