11th Italian Baja
2003 FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies, round 1
Japan's Hiroshi Masuoka and Frenchman Stephane Peterhansel will lead the Mitsubishi motor sports challenge into the 11th Baja Italy, the opening round of the FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies, this weekend.
The pair finished first and third overall in the Telefonica Dakar Rally in January and will be hoping to continue Mitsubishi's winning streak when they enter a pair of Pajero Evolutions on the three-day Baja event in north-eastern Italy.
Peterhansel, who won two rounds of last year's World Cup in Tunisia and Dubai, teams up with his usual French co-driver Jean-Paul Cottret. Masuoka will be partnered by the veteran Frenchman Gilles Picard, the former enduro rider and most recent co-driver for Jean-Pierre Fontenay.
Fontenay and Picard finished second overall in the Dakar Rally this year, but Fontenay has taken the decision to retire from active competition to concentrate on test and development work with the Mitsubishi team. He was second overall in last year's Italian event.
Picard finished third overall in last year's Italian World Cup opener alongside former Mitsubishi driver Kenjiro Shinozuka. The Japanese driver left the Mitsubishi team mid-way through last season and is now on the road to recovery after a serious accident in January's Dakar Rally.
A third Mitsubishi L200 Strakar has been entered in the 11th Baja Italy for Portugal's Carlos Sousa and his veteran French co-driver Henri Magne. The pair finished fourth on the 2003 Dakar Rally and are planning to tackle the European Baja rounds of the FIA World Cup. Magne won last year's Baja Italy with Frenchman Jean-Louis Schlesser and is one of the world's most experienced co-drivers.
Mitsubishi took the top four overall places in the 2003 Dakar Rally, but faces competition from the factory Nissan team, which finished fifth overall in January, BMW's X5 Rally-Raid and a pair of Volkswagen Tareks, making their first ever appearance on a round of the FIA World Cup.
After documentation and scrutineering on Thursday March 13th, action begins with a traditional seven-kilometre Prologue stage at Vivaro on Friday.
The actual competitive action is centred around the Observatory Ariete in Vivaro. Saturday offers three selective sections, each running for 125 kms. The three sections start at 07.30, 11.30 and 15.30 and take place over twisty and narrow farm tracks around the Cellina area.
Sunday's timetable offers a pair of 105 kms stages at 09.15 and 13.00, again centred at the Observatory Ariete in Vivaro, but with the action taking place around Meduna.
After the final regrouping a road section takes the surviving teams to Trieste and the official podium scheduled for 18.30. In a compact total route of 741.80 kms, 615 kms will be run against the clock.
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