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PAX Rally: Mitsubishi prepares for the swansong of the Pajero.

The petrol-powered Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution - which has built up a uniquely successful record in the world of cross-country rallying - will begin its final competitive outing tomorrow (Wednesday) when the 2008 PAX Rally kicks off in Lisbon, Portugal. It will be an emotional occasion for Mitsubishi and its three-driver line-up who have notched up no fewer than 19 wins between them.

The current MPR13 version will pass the baton later in the year to the brand new diesel-engined 'Racing Lancer' which is due to make its debut on October's Baja Portugal in the hands of St├ęphane Peterhansel (France). Before then, however, Peterhansel and his co-driver Jean-Paul Cottret (France), plus team-mates Juan 'Nani' Roma/Lucas Cruz (Spain) and Luc Alphand/Gilles Picard (France) will attempt to profit from the second event of the newly-created Dakar Series to end the current car's career on a high note.

"This rally is essentially an opportunity for the drivers and the team to stay match fit as our 2008 programme draws to an end and the countdown to the 2009 Dakar begins," notes Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart Team Director Dominique Serieys (France). "Apart from the fact that this is the Pajero/Montero Evolution's final event and we would like to mark the occasion with a top result, there is no pressure on the drivers to bring back development information. They will therefore have a free hand to push as hard as they like, even though we are fully aware that they face some very stiff competition this week."

The PAX Rally marks the team's second visit to Portugal this season following Luc Alphand's victory earlier in the year on the Rali Transiberico, an event which also saw Nani Roma collect the first stage wins for the diesel-powered Pajero/Montero Evolution MPR14 interim car.

"I led the Transiberico for a short while before hitting mechanical trouble in May, so I will be out for revenge this time," warns Nani Roma. "That said, you only need to look at the entry list to realise that it won't be easy against our rivals', but we will keep up the fight all the way to the finish. I've competed in Portugal often enough now to have a good feeling for the terrain and I love the stages. I can't wait to get started"

Luc Alphand is equally fired up by the prospect of an exciting battle over the next few days: "The rally begins with the longest stage of the week, so it will be vital to hit the ground running and find a strong, quick pace straight away. A good rhythm calls for confidence in your car and the three of us know the Pajero/Montero Evolution by heart. I am clearly familiar with the terrain and that's obviously a bonus, but then most of the front-runners have been here several times before. The entry list reads like a who's who of cross-country rallying, so I think we're in for a tremendous rally."

Like his team-mates, St├ęphane Peterhansel is delighted to be back in Portugal and he, too, led the Transiberico early on. "Portugal is ideal territory for cross-country rallying," he observes, "and much of the route will be familiar, although the exact stages are kept secret until just before the start. Those to the north tend to be rocky, but the terrain will become sandier as we head south towards the Algarve region where the Dakar prologue was held two years ago. It's going to be a technically challenging event, but very enjoyable, too. The weather for the Transiberico was horrible, so let's hope today's sunny conditions hold all week."

Competitive action begins tomorrow (Wednesday) and will take crews northeast from the Portuguese capital to Castelo Branco via a 223km stage which covers similar terrain to that seen on the Rali Transiberico. The route will then bring competitors south to Sunday afternoon's finish in Portimao on the Algarve coast after a total distance of 1,583km, including 829km divided into six stages (one per day, plus two on Friday).

2008/09/10 | 00:48 CET | Editor: MR/MMSP/Rita Konya

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