Mitsubishi will be bidding for an eighth outright win and third successive victory in the gruelling Dakar Rally, when the 25th Anniversary edition starts in Marseilles on New Year's Day.
The Japanese marque has dominated the event's leaderboard for the last two years and filled the top six places in 2002.
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 event 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.
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 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 become 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.
Japanese Success In Africa
Four years later Kenjiro Shinozuka became the first Japanese driver ever to win the Dakar, when he steered his Pajero 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 first ever win for a woman in the history of Dakar with Jutta Kleinschmidt.
In 2002 Masuoka dominated the Arras-Madrid-Dakar Rally and become the second Japanese driver to enter the history books, with Kleinschmidt, Shinozuka and Fontenay giving the factory Pajeros the top four places.
Yamaha has won the Dakar eight times on two-wheels, but Frenchman Stephane Peterhansel and Masuoka will be joined by Italian Miki Biasion and Fontenay, among the massive 440-entry, as Mitsubishi aims to rewrite the history books and bids for its eighth success in January.
The 2003 event is scheduled to finish at Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt on January 19th.Published 14 December 2002