Mitsubishi target 1-2 in Baja Rally
- 17th July 2007, 11:19am
After hosting short, non-competitive sections of the Dakar in January and the recent Rally Transiberico, Spain will become the unreserved centre of attention for crosscountry baja fans when the 2007 Baja Espana starts in Madrid on Thursday July 19th.
The total length of the four-day event is 1,461.92km, of which more than half (795.29km) will be against the clock. The programme includes a short prologue in the vicinity of Spain's former F1 circuit, Jarama, plus four stages in the Aragon region, the longest of which (252.80km) is contested twice. The event finishes in Zaragoza, 320km north-east of the Spanish capital, on Sunday July 22nd.
Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart's second outing of the year will see Baja Espana expert Joan 'Nani' Roma (Spain) and his co-driver Lucas Cruz (Spain) joined by Dakar winners Stéphane Peterhansel/Jean-Paul Cottret (France) in the two Pajero/Montero Evolutions that have been entered for the event.
Although the Spanish Baja didn't figure on the team's programme in 2006, the same two drivers finished first and second on this event for Mitsubishi two years ago when Roma claimed the first win of his career on four-wheels to add to his exceptional record of five bike wins between 1997 and 2002.
"As the only major Spanish event on the international cross-country calendar, the Baja Espana is clearly an important fixture for our partner," says Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart team director Dominique Serieys. "At the same time, it will serve as an important part of our build-up to the 2008 Dakar, giving Nani and Stéphane a chance to get in valuable match practice and also provide us with an opportunity to, perhaps, carry over certain findings from our early-July test programme in Morocco."
The event itself is more of a sprint than the recent Transiberico Rally. However, it is still relatively smooth with only the occasional rougher part where the drivers have to pick a way through the rocks. "The countryside is more open than the terrain we saw in Portugal and the longer straights mean that average speeds are a little higher," notes Serieys. "The baja promises to give us a chance to run competitively in hot weather. I think we can be sure of at least 35?, but the thermometer could easily climb to 40? or even higher! Rain is less likely but can't be ruled out and we will need to be ready for this eventuality."
Following their one-two finish on the 2005 Baja Espana, both drivers are aware of the special challenge that awaits them on what has emerged as one of the season's classic bajas. "It's very different to a traditional cross-country rally," observes Stéphane Peterhansel who finished second here at first attempt on four wheels in 2005 after brake problems forced him to hand his early lead to Mitsubishi team-mate 7/16/2007
Nani Roma. "The stages run on clearly-defined tracks so its easy navigation, and there's no time to think about strategy either. You basically need to hit the ground running and then push hard from start to finish. That said, we are kept informed about our position on the stages at regular intervals, so that enables you to adjust your pace if, depending on whether you're trying to catch someone or keep a driver behind you at a safe distance." "Apart from 2005, my only other attempts at this event - as a biker - date back to the nineties," continues the Frenchman, "so I can't say I know it all that well and it isn't possible to recce the route. Therefore, one of the challenges we face is to try and note the main hazards and difficulties the first time over the parts that are repeated." Nani Roma enjoys far more extensive experience of his home event on both two and, more recently, four wheels which is an advantage that essentially gives him a better feel for the lie of the land. "It's not so much detailed knowledge of the stages that counts," he points out. "After all, the route is secret and, although the route near Zaragoza promises to be similar to that used two years ago, the organisers have such a choice of itineraries that you can't commit much to memory. On top of that, the format has evolved considerably over the years. There used to be 800km or more of non-stop competitive action and I remember spending 14 hours on my bike from start to finish one year. That was tough!"
"Today's event has been broken down into smaller chunks but the effort you need to produce has to come more in bursts, so it's just as challenging," adds the Spaniard. "The 2005 Baja Espana brought me my first success after switching to four wheels. OK, I had a little luck when Stéphane's brake problems let me through, but it was a good fight which I enjoyed thoroughly. Another nice thing about this event is the fact that it's close enough to home for my friends and family to come and watch, and I'm sure there'll also be plenty of spectators. This will be a change from crossing vast deserted expanses on the Dakar!"
The end of the Baja Espana on Sunday July 22nd coincides with the completion of the Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart's summer test programme in the south of Morocco where the team is busy refining the performance and reliability of the Mitsubishi Cross Country Rally cars.
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