Rovanpera to lead Mitsubishi

Mitsubishi Motors has signed Harri Rovanpera to join Gilles Panizzi and Gigi Galli in its 2005 WRC line-up. The Finn, who drove for the factory Peugeot team last season, has long been connected with a switch to the Japanese squad

Rovanpera to lead Mitsubishi

Mitsubishi has also confirmed that it will make a full return to world rallying, with Rovanpera leading the team and contesting all 16 rounds while Panizzi and Galli will share a second car. The Japanese car maker stepped back from a full campaign last season to concentrate on rebuilding its competitiveness, but stood firm on its promise to return full-time in 2005 with the announcement of a new Lancer WRC05.

"The championship is more and more dominated by gravel rallies and we need a driver who knows all these events very well", said team boss Isao Torii. "Harri Rovanpera is a good loose surface driver, especially on the high-speed events. We feel fortunate that he is joining the team and expect some good performances. He drives consistently and finishes rallies; we will be very reliant on him."

Panizzi is expected to target the sealed-surface events in 2004 - the Frenchman is a renowned expert - and was thanked for his tireless development work during a largely fruitless season. "Gilles has been incredibly supportive of the team and has contributed enormous amounts to our development program", said Torii. "We did not give him the car to challenge, but next year we have big expectations and see him as a potential winner on asphalt, especially in the second half of the season."

The team said that Galli's re-signing was a reward for his commitment in Mitsubishi's Group N machinery in Sardinia as well his seventh place finish in Spain in the Lancer WRC04, and admitted that he may be given a third car for the European events.

"Gigi has made very good progress and although it was very difficult to compare the results of our three young drivers this year, his performances in Sardinia and Spain are what made us decide to retain him in 2005," said Torii.

The new car is an evolution of the WRC04 although it is expected to be a step forward in competitiveness. "We have concentrated very seriously on development of the Lancer WRC since August this year and that strategy paid off in Spain, where the progress we made saw two cars finish in the top seven", Torii explained. "We still have more development work to do.

"An active differential system and modified semi-automatic gearshift will be the main targets in the development program and our primary focus for the first half of the season.

"In October 2003 we announced our team's three-year turn-around program, namely that in 2004 we would come back to the series with the Lancer and then target podium positions in 2005. For 2006, our aim is to claim the world title again; I feel those objectives are on track."

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