At the end of the opening leg of the Rally of Turkey, round seven of the FIA World Rally Championship, the Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports WRC crew of “Gigi” Galli and Guido D'Amore hold second overall ahead of a host of former World Rally Champions.
The Italian Lancer WRC05 crew
also not only led an FIA World Rally Championship event for the first time in their careers (after SS4) but brought further encouragement to Mitsubishi, heading the field for the Japanese manufacturer for the first time since the legendary Safari Rally in 2001. Team-mates Harri Rovanperä and Risto Pietiläinen were running well until forced to retire from sixth position with damaged rear suspension.
“I am very happy, and even happier to still be smiling at the end of the day,” said Isao Torii, Head of Mitsubishi Motor Sports. “It is a pity about Harri, but Gigi has had a very good day. We can see that our car is now getting faster and more competitive, and it allowed Gigi to show his speed. He has been consistent all day, and always inside the top five.”
After last night's ceremonial start in Cumhuriyet Square, Antalya, today's opening leg of competition took the crews into the high snow-dusted mountains to the west for eight special stages totalling 148.14 competitive kilometers. Clear blue skies and warm early morning temperatures once again greeted the crews, marking the start of what was a demanding first day of competition. While the sun shone for most of the day and temperatures in the mountains were a comparatively cool 19 degrees, rain fell in stages seven and eight and light fog made conditions even more treacherous for weary cars and crews.
Gigi Galli set a hot pace from the outset, the Italian claiming second fastest time in the first two stages and then posting the fastest time in stage four, where he overhauled reigning World Champion Sebastien Loeb
to take the outright lead by 6.4 seconds. In the proceeding stages, the Lancer WRC05 crew were never outside the top five and hold second position after nearly fifty percent of the event's competitive distance.
“It has been a fantastic day and we have all done a good job,” said Gigi, who now has Marcus Grönholm just 3.6 seconds behind. “For me it is not so much the work we have done here, but what we achieved on the test last week. The tires have also worked well and we have made a good choice everywhere, so my thanks go to Pirelli. Tomorrow, we have some really hard-charging drivers behind and it will be a big fight. But we have to be clever; I will stick to my own rhythm because I know they are much more experienced and I am not perhaps ready to fight with someone like Marcus (Grönholm). If it's dry, it will certainly be harder to keep him behind.”
Team-mate Harri Rovanperä was running well and held a position inside the top seven during the whole leg, but was then forced to retire with damaged right rear suspension in stage eight, the penultimate of the day. They are however anticipated to re-join the rally tomorrow in 12th position, under the SUPERally regulations.
“We have to wait and see exactly what the damage is, but it seems that the suspension has bent, leaving the tire rubbing on the inside of the wheel arch,” said Harri. “The wheel wouldn't turn and we had to stop in the stage.”
Adding to the drivers' comments, Mario Fornaris, the team's Technical Director said: “Second overall is our best position so far this season and it shows we can fight for the top position. It has been a big team effort to improve the car and we must give credit to Gigi for a fantastic drive with no mistakes. Obviously we're disappointed about Harri; he was unlucky. But, the car seems to be very reliable, we've had no mechanical problems and that's very important.”
The second leg of the Rally of Turkey again takes the crews to the west of Kemer for another six mountain stages before returning to Antalya for the second and final run over the super special stage. In total, the leg covers 150.48 competitive kilometers and is the longest of the event.
Press release Mitsubishi Motors