Mitsubishi Motors, which started the 2003 season by taking the first four places in the gruelling Telefonica Dakar Rally in January, is putting the finishing touches to its plans for an assault at the FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies.
Under the guidance of Sven Quandt - head of the new Mitsubishi motor sports organisation - and Dominique Serieys - Team Manager - the team has undergone some fine-tuning, effective this weekend for the three-day Baja Italy.
In order to assist with test and development work, optimise ressources and make the best use of experience within the team, Frenchman Jean-Pierre Fontenay will be appointed as the team's official test driver after his recent decision to retire from active rally driving.
Fontenay won the Dakar Rally for Mitsubishi back in 1998 and has been an integral member of the team since the 1980s. He finished second overall in this year's Dakar at the wheel of a classic Pajero* and was second overall in last year's Baja Italy and UAE Desert Challenge rounds of the FIA World Cup.
Fontenay's former co-driver Gilles Picard is to become the new partner for Japan's Hiroshi Masuoka, the twice recent winner of the gruelling Dakar Rally. Frenchman Picard - a former enduro rider with the likes of both the Cagiva and Yamaha factory teams - switched to competing as a professional co-driver several years ago and has partnered many of the world's finest cross-country rally drivers. He will join forces with Masuoka for the first time in Italy this weekend. Picard finished second overall on the recent Dakar Rally alongside Fontenay and was third overall in last year's Baja Italy.
"Jean-Pierre has been a stalwart of Mitsubishi Motors for many years," said Team Manager Dominique Serieys. "He is one of the most successful cross-country rally drivers of all time and it was fitting that he finished on the Dakar podium this year. His feedback and input as a test and development driver will be vital to the ongoing success of the team."
The third change is the switch by Germany's Andreas Schulz to overseeing the Mitsubishi Motors Young Driver Programme, announced together with the new Motor Sports organisation last November. The Bavarian's challenge will be to train and nurture young up-and-coming rally drivers like Andrea Mayer, to a professional standard.
Schulz is the only co-driver to win the Dakar Rally on two occasions with the official Mitsubishi team - he was victorious with Masuoka in January and alongside Germany's Jutta Kleinschmidt in 2001.
"We have made these tweaks within the organisation to further strengthen Mitsubishi motors sports," said Sven Quandt. "The result on the Dakar Rally was a great start to the year, but the 2003 World Cup programme is a fresh challenge and we must be thoroughly prepared for what lies ahead."
Mitsubishi motor sports has entered the French pairing of Stephane Peterhansel and Jean-Paul Cottret, alongside Masuoka and Picard in a pair of Mitsubishi Pajero* Evolutions in this weekend's Baja Italy. Portugal's Carlos Sousa and his French co-driver Henri Magne wheel out a Mitsubishi L200 Strakar.
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