Mitsubishi Lancer Evolutions filled 7 of the top 10 Group N positions on the opening round of the Production Car World Rally Championship, Rally Norway, which finished in Hamar this afternoon.
Local hero, Eyvind Brynildsen (Norway) was the fastest of the Lancer Evolution drivers and fastest of the showroom-type Group N cars. Brynildsen, classified second in the PWRC, lost his chance of winning the category outright when he went off the road avoiding another driver on the opening day of the rally.
Brynildsen and former world champion co-driver Denis Giraudet (France) were just getting into their rhythm when they were forced to take avoiding action in the fifth stage. A competitor ahead of them had gone off into a snowbank and, when Brynildsen’s Mitsubishi arrived on the scene, the road was full of marshals and spectators trying to get the other car back on the road.
The stewards of the event allowed Brynildsen to re-start the next day with notional times, leaving him second in Group N. The Norwegian was philosophical at the finish, saying: "It’s been a tough rally, the problem on the first day didn’t help me. It was disappointing. But, we’re here and we have some very good points on the board from the first event. As much as I wanted to win this rally, I knew I had to take points for the Production championship and that’s what I’ve done. It’s a good start to the season."
One of the highlights of Brynildsen’s event came on the final day, when his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution recorded the second highest speed of any of the competing cars down a long stage in the Elverum test. Petter Solberg was fastest at 208km/h, with Eyvind second quickest, with an impressive speed of 202km/h.
The one thing Brynildsen and all of the other competitors agreed on unanimously was the conditions which Rally Norway ran in. Temperatures running as low as minus 30 Celsius combined with heavy snowfalls in the weeks leading up to the rally made for the perfect winter rally with a solid ice and snow base on the road surrounded by two and three-meter-high snowbanks.
Martin Prokop (Czech Republic) admitted he had enjoyed himself, bringing his Lancer Evolution home third. Prokop said: "We don’t have snow rallies like this at home, so to come here has been fantastic fun for me. I was a little bit steady at the start, not pushing too much, but then I wanted to fight with Armindo [Araujo, Portugal], so we pushed harder and got past him. The car has been very good here, no problems at all."
Coming from Portugal, Araujo was another stranger to the wintry weather. He still managed, however, to bring his Mitsubishi home six minutes ahead of his nearest competitor. Andis Neiksans (Latvia), Frederic Sauvan (France), Bernt Kollevold (Norway) and Martin Semerad (Czech Republic) were the remaining Lancer Evolution drivers who crowded into the top 10.
At the top of the leaderboard, Sebastien Loeb (France) won the event after a tight fight with Mikko Hirvonen (Finland). Finishing in third place was Hirvonen’s Ford team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala.
The next round of the Production Car World Rally Championship is the Cyprus Rally (March 12-15).
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