GERMANY -- Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart completed its final preparations for the 2002 Rallye Deutschland today when the team's registered crews ran the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution WRC2s for the final time ahead of tonight's ceremonial start in the centre of Trier.
This is the first year the event has run in the FIA World Rally Championship and, as such, preparation has been all the more important for teams and drivers alike. Few have experience of the German roads and, with changeable weather conditions the rally has the potential to be one of the most open and unpredictable in this year's calendar. The team has however undertaken extensive testing with the Evolution WRC2 on asphalt roads in France and during a four-day test last week in Germany, and today's shakedown test, on the outskirts of Trier, provided the opportunity to finalise the set-up on both Delecour and McRae's challengers.
"The weather is very mixed and during our test last week the conditions were hot and dry, completely different to the last couple of days," commented Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart chief engineer, Bernard Lindauer. "With rain today, the drivers have had the opportunity to test some wet tyres and set-ups and both seem very happy with where we are. The bulk of our testing has been on asphalt and I think maybe we have made more progress on this surface than on gravel. If it remains wet though, our road positions will not be so good for tomorrow, as a lot of mud and gravel will wash onto the roads as well as be pulled out by the crews in front."
Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart drivers François Delecour and Daniel Grataloup are one of the few crews to have prior experience of Rallye Deutschland, the French pair having contested the event during its observation year in 2001. "It is a completely different event, three rallies in one," said François. "I think in the second leg punctures could be a big problem and generally the roads are very very fast. For me, it is not so enjoyable because the roads are not natural, they don't flow but I think it will be an interesting rally. If it continues to rain, I think there could be lots of mistakes and accidents by a lot of crews."
Team-mates Alister McRae and David Senior had their first taste of the Tarmac-specification Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution WRC2 during last week's test and are confident that progress has been made in many areas. "There is definitely an improvement, although there is always more to do," said the Scot. "The front end is much more positive and the engine is better, but we still have some work to do with the transmission. During the test we made a lot of progress with the brakes, especially the handbrake, which is going to be important here. This rally is a totally different challenge, different to any other Tarmac event I've done and in places it's almost a mixed surface rally. The roads in the first and third legs are very narrow with a lot of straights and square corners, not at all flowing. The military roads in the second leg are more concrete based, broken and with gravel in places. It's going to be one of those events where a mistake will cost heavily as it's difficult to get back on the road if you go off. And it's very easy to miss your braking point and overshoot a junction."
Adding to the drivers' comments, Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart team manager Derek Dauncey said: "I think this is going to be an interesting and frustrating event for many of the crews, because of the nature of the roads, and patience – especially if it stays wet – will be called for."
The 2002 Rallye Deutschland kicks off with a ceremonial start in front of the Porta Nigra (Black Gate) in the centre of Trier this evening. The action however begins on Friday morning when the crews leave Trier for the opening eight special stages and 148.64 competitive kilometres. The route takes the crews to the northeast of the Roman city, along the River Mosel, a region famed for its hilly landscape and white wine.