Rovanpera 4th - Leg 1, Gali Out

Rovanpera 4th - Leg 1, Gali OutFrom Mitsubishi Press [ 29/04/2005 ].
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The Mitsubishi Lancer WRC05 crew of Harri Rovanperä and Risto Pietiläinen hold a fine fourth overall at the end of the opening leg of Rally Italia Sardinia, round five of the FIA World Rally Championship. Team-mates "Gigi" Galli and Guido D’Amore were on the pace from the outset of the event, but the Italians were forced onto the sidelines after stage five with broken rear suspension.

"Harri has done a very good job, he felt confident with the car and has driven well", commented Isao Torii, Head of Mitsubishi Motor Sports. "His goal must be to maintain or better his fourth position, but we do have concerns about the tires for tomorrow. We have looked at the other competitors and it seems we are not the only one with problems, but tomorrow will be difficult with the distances we have to cover. It is a big pity for Gigi because he is not getting the opportunity to show his speed and promise due to the problems he has had this season. But he has the speed and in SUPERally he will be able to show this I’m sure".

Large crowds soaked up the atmosphere at last night’s ceremonial start on the harbor side in the luxury resort of Porto Rotondo, to the north of Olbia, where 66 crews transited the ramp marking the start of the rally. Today, however, the route took the crews to the south of the central service park in Olbia for two loops of three identical stages covering 137.86 competitive kilometers. Clear blue skies and warm sunshine once again greeted the crews, but the event has already turned into one of survival, with no fewer than two other leading crews forced out.

Harri Rovanperä set a blistering pace in the opening 29.82 kilometer stage this morning, the Finn setting second fastest time behind former World Champion Marcus Grönholm. However, punctures in the following two stages slowed the Lancer WRC05 driver and he held sixth by the mid-leg service. This afternoon, despite running the hardest compound tire, Harri suffered heavy tire wear but capitalized on the retirement of crews around him to hold fourth overnight.

"Our first day result is good and we’ve had no technical problems", said the Finn back in Olbia this evening. "The feeling with the car is okay, but the roads are very bumpy and rough and generally it’s much hotter than we expected. It’s a very difficult rally and although we’re pushing hard, it’s not so easy. We ran a harder specification damper this afternoon and maybe the car was more stable, especially in the fast corners. But we have to wait and see what happens tomorrow with the tires, as maybe this will be an issue".

Team-mate Gigi Galli was also straight on the pace, the Italian fifth after the first stage this morning. His charge was however hampered in the second stage when a rear brake pipe broke, but broken rear suspension shattered his dreams of a top result in his home round of the series. He was forced to pull out after stage five before any further damage was caused.

"We didn’t hit anything but the suspension suddenly broke and the rear wheel came off", said a disappointed Gigi. "There seems to be a cloud hanging over our car on each rally at the moment… But, we have the opportunity to run in SUPERally tomorrow and hopefully we can continue to show a good pace and gain more experience and understanding of the conditions. On the positive side, there is a big improvement with the dampers; I think our time and Harri’s this morning say that for themselves".

Adding to the drivers’ comments, the team’s Technical Director Mario Fornaris said: "If you had said this morning that we would be fourth I would have been surprised, but we have had some problems and obviously this doesn’t make us entirely happy. Tire wear was heavy this afternoon and maybe we lost out, but then I think we gained this morning so we have to balance that performance. Gigi did a fantastic drive earlier, despite his problems, and was second fastest on the split times before having to stop; that’s disappointing. With Harri, we could actually have had a position in the top three".

Despite the event being a round of the FIA Junior World Rally Championship, a host of Group N contenders are nevertheless fighting for category honors. Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution drivers hold three of the top six positions at the end of the leg, with Italian Sergio Pianezzola the highest placed in third position.

The second leg of Rally Italia Sardinia promises to be another tough one and is the longest of the event covering another five stages and 144.01 competitive kilometers. Four of the five stages are more than 30 kilometers in length and the heat and demanding conditions promise yet more dramas in the fifth round of the series.