MITSUBISHI BIDS FOR EIGHTH VICTORY
Mitsubishi Motors Corporation and Ralliart Inc. will aim for an eighth outright and third successive success in the 2003 Dakar Rally (officially named the Telefonica Dakar and more commonly known as the 'Paris-Dakar').
The event will take place between January 1st-19th, 2003. Mitsubishi have entered four cars: a pair of Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution / Montero Evolution and two Mitsubishi Pajero / Monteros.
The Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution / Montero Evolution is the newly-developed vehicle conforming to the Super Production Class inaugurated in 2002. This new machine has been developed using the experienced gained by Mitsubishi since its first entry into the Paris-Dakar Rally back in 1983 and its vast experience on numerous rounds of the FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies.
The styling of the Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution / Montero Evolution concept car was first introduced at the 59th Frankfurt Motor Show autumn 2001 and the prototype was shown for the first time at the Paris Motor Show in this September.
Prototype versions of the new model were tested in Morocco throughout the heat of the African summer and two entries were placed in the UAE Desert Challenge, the final round of the 2002 FIA World Cup in the Middle East in November.
DEBUT WIN FOR MITSUBISHI PAJERO EVOLUTION / MONTERO EVOLUTION
Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution/
(Photo: UAE Desert Challenge 2002)
The new car controlled proceedings from the outset, with Frenchman Stéphane Peterhansel leading from start to finish to record an emphatic debut victory for Mitsubishi's new challenger for cross-country honours.
The drivers selected to represent the official Mitsubishi team and drive the Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution / Montero Evolution in the 2003 Dakar Rally will be Japan's Hiroshi Masuoka - who took a long-awaited maiden victory in the event in 2002 - and Peterhansel, himself a winner of the Dakar with the Yamaha motorcycle team on no less than six occasions.
A modified version of the 2002 Dakar Rally-winning Mitsubishi Pajero / Montero will also be driven by the 1998 winner Jean-Pierre Fontenay (France) and the twice former World Rally champion Miki Biasion (Italy). They both tackled the recent UAE Desert Challenge to further test the Pajero / Montero and finished second and third overall behind team mate Peterhansel.
Biasion, who won the WRC with Lancia in 1988 and 1989, joined the Mitsubishi team in the summer and the UAE Desert Challenge was his first taste of his new challenge of international Cross-Country Rallying.
On the 2003 Dakar Rally, Masuoka will continue as before with sponsorship from Nippon Oil Corporation, while he and Fontenay are both entered for Team ENEOS Mitsubishi Ralliart. Peterhansel and Biasion will have sponsorship from the French telecommunications firm ATS and compete for Team ATS Mitsubishi Ralliart.
TEAM DIRECTOR CONFIDENT OF VICTORY
Team director Dominique Serieys, who won the Dakar Rally for Mitsubishi with French driver Bruno Saby back in 1983, is understandably confident. "The new Evolution is a very daring concept," he said. "It has a lot of different technical characteristics, an excellent power-to-weight distribution, a new six-speed sequential gearbox, improved suspension and new applied technologies.
We made a choice for the 2003 Dakar, giving us the possibility to renew and reinforce the team, mainly the drivers, as the co-drivers are practically the same. We retained Hiroshi Masuoka, who was the Dakar winner in 2002. We called upon Stéphane Peterhansel, who won the Dakar on a motorbike six times.
He joined Mitsubishi this year and won the Tunisia Rally. He's a driver who can achieve another win for Mitsubishi. We also retained the services of Jean-Pierre Fontenay, the established French driver at Mitsubishi and the last recruit is the well-known Italian driver Miki Biasion. I feel that this gives us a very strong team."
MITSUBISHI BIDS FOR EIGHTH WIN
Mitsubishi has filled all three podium places on the Dakar Rally on no less than four occasions - 1992, 1997, 1998 and 2002 - and heads for the 2003 event as a strong candidate for that eighth outright win - a feat only ever managed by Yamaha in the motorcycle category.
The Paris-Dakar Rally began in 1978, when a mere 170 entrants set off from Paris on a testing route through Algeria, Niger, Mali, Haute-Volta and on to a finish in Senegal. That first event was organised by Frenchman Thierry Sabine and the Thierry Sabine Organisation (TSO) continues to organise the event today. Sabine tragically lost his life in a helicopter accident during the 1986 Dakar Rally.
Mitsubishi first entered the Dakar in 1983, but the team's winning track record began in 1985, when Frenchman Patrick Zaniroli and co-driver Jean Da Silva steered their Pajero / Montero to a maiden success. Mitsubishi then had to wait seven years for a second triumph.
This time it was the turn of Hubert Auriol to earn an emphatic win in the Paris-Cape Town Rally and he became the only competitor in history ever to win the Dakar on a bike and in a car.
Mitsubishi controlled proceedings in 1992, on what was the longest of all the Dakar rallies and repeated the feat the following year when Frenchman Bruno Saby achieved success with Dominique Serieys in a Pajero / Montero.
Four years later Kenjiro Shinozuka became the first Japanese driver ever to win the Dakar, when he steered his Pajero / Montero to victory. Frenchman Jean-Pierre Fontenay was triumphant the following year, but Mitsubishi had to wait until the turn of the century to take their sixth victory.
The 2001 Dakar witnessed a frenetic battle between Mitsubishi and the Schlesser Buggies, with Japan's Hiroshi Masuoka holding the advantage for much of the route through Mauritania and Mali.
He lost the lead in a well-publicised accident near the finish and Germany's Jutta Kleinschmidt hit the front once rival Jean-Louis Schlesser incurred a time penalty. Her win was the first for a woman in the history of the Dakar.
Masuoka returned with a vengeance in 2002 to dominate the Arras-Madrid-Dakar Rally and became the second Japanese driver to enter the history books, with Kleinschmidt, Shinozuka and Fontenay giving the factory Pajeros the top four places.
But results were not forthcoming from then on and Carlos Sousa's victory on one of the Baja 24-Hour races aside, Mitsubishi switched to developing the new car rather than send official cars to the Masters Rally and the Por Las Pampas Rally in Argentina.
Four cars were entered in the UAE Desert Challenge, as a warm-up for the Dakar and all four were a class of the field, with Mitsubishis filling the top three places. Masuoka, who had become a worldwide celebrity after winning the 2002 Dakar, was delayed by an accident and a rear differential problem, but set a pair of fastest stage times to further boost Mitsubishi's confidence for the 2003 Dakar.
"I feel that we have a fantastic balance of talent in the team now," admitted Serieys. "Masuoka is a very fast driver and he is sure to drive flat out on the Dakar. But we also have the experience of Jean-Pierre Fontenay, who is a former winner, and the limitless talents of Peterhansel. He is relatively new to the team, but his record on the Dakar is legendary. Miki (Biasion) is new to the team, but he has a lot of experience in the World Rally Championship and I looked at his passage control section times after the UAE Desert Challenge and he was very quick indeed."
MAJOR TECHNICAL IMPROVEMENTS
The Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution / Montero Evolution differs from the older 2002-specification in terms of exterior body styling and dimensions. It is 113 mm longer than the older model, 39 mm wider and has a wheelbase 180 mm longer than its predecessor. Both the front and rear track have been extended by 22 mm.
The new T2 model is powered by a revised 6G74, six-cylinder, 3,497cc, 24-valve MIVEC V6 engine and utilises ECI multi-injection and a six-speed transmission. Ralliart claims the unit produces 270 bhp at 6,000 rpm and a massive 36 kg-m of torque at 3,500 rpm.
2003 competition models will run on BF Goodrich tyres and use independent double wishbone front and rear suspension, six-pot ventilated discs and power assisted rack and pinion steering. Mitsubishi also has its own tyre-deflation system, which automatically inflates and deflates the tyres with a push of a button on the dashboard.
In the UAE Desert Challenge the Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution / Montero Evolution was in a class of its own from the outset, with Peterhansel setting the fastest time through the opening stage from Hameem to Liwa, deep in the Arabian desert. Team mate Masuoka rolled and later sustained a flat tyre, but the new car had been comfortably quicker than the older model, two official BMW X5s and a Nissan Pick-Up run by Team Dessoude.
Masuoka hit trouble over the gruelling second section through the Rub Al Khali, when the rear differential overheated in outside temperatures which peaked at 47 degrees Centigrade in the heat of the midday sun.
"There was a problem with the temperature of the rear differential on Hiroshi's car," admitted Serieys. "The oil was 180 degrees and we stopped. It was a problem with the oil pump. He returned to the bivouac and we repaired it. It cost him the rally, for sure, but that is why we did the test. Better to have problems here than on the Dakar."
The opposition's demise was Peterhansel's gain and the Frenchman edged further clear of team mates Fontenay and Biasion over the second day of the UAE Desert Challenge. Masuoka set the quickest time in the third stage, as Peterhansel eased off to conserve his lead, and the Japanese driver was again comfortably quicker than anyone else over the sprint through the dunes back to Dubai.
Peterhansel duly consolidated his overall lead and gave Team Mitsubishi Ralliart a winning debut for the new car, with Fontenay and Biasion filling the podium places.
"I have a very good feeling about this car," said Peterhansel. "From the start it was powerful, responsive, fast over the hatch roads and easy to drive in the sand and the dunes. I did not have one mechanical problem. It was competitive from the start and I truly feel that this car will win the Dakar and maybe next year's World Cup."
Masuoka was also positive after his first real test. "I won the Dakar Rally in 2002 after many attempts and knew as soon as I got into this car that we had a winner again. I had a couple of problems myself. One over a series of tricky bumps where I rolled the car and then the differential problem. But this should not be a factor on the Dakar and other rallies next year. Libya, Tunisia and Egypt is never forty degrees in January, so this will not be a factor."
2003 DAKAR STARTS ON NEW YEAR'S DAY
After documentation and scrutineering in Marseilles, the official start is on New Year's Day. From there the route heads south through France for three timed special stages prior to the North African ferry crossing. The TSO have promised a testing route through the tricky dune complexes of Eastern Tunisia and the towering ranges in Libya and the Egyptian Deserts.
There will be three stages in Tunisia, five in Libya and six in Egypt, the longest competitive section being 584 km.
Out of a total route of 8602 km, 5257 km will be competitive. Two stages will be run without GPS, there will be a Marathon stage and a rest day at Siwa in Egypt on January 13th. The event will draw to a close at Sharm El Sheikh on the Red Sea on January 19th.
Following Mitsubishi's recent decision to withdraw from the FIA World Rally Championship for one year to further develop the Lancer World Rally Car, the 2003 Dakar Rally result will take on even more significance within the Japanese organisation.