Sunday, January 14, 2007

Mitsubishi mystery

Back on December 14th we first heard whispers of a new Mitsubishi entry to the WRC. The story went that Toni Gardemeister and Khalid Al-Qassami would be run by MMSP in 2005 Lancer WRC cars. Given the line-up, it seemed clear that financial backing was coming from the Middle East. The rumour seemed to be confirmed when, not typically prone to reporting hearsay and rumour, posted the story the following day.

Within hours removed the news item, and by 12/18 Mitsubishi had announced it would not be returning in 2007 in an official capacity as a "manufacturer" entry. However, it still seemed as though a team would run the two cars with the same two drivers. Middle East money still seemed to be heavily involved.

Two days later, the entry list for the Monte Carlo Rally was released and the unnamed Mitsu team was on there, specifically listing Gardemeister and Al-Qassami in Lancer WRC05s. Nine days after that the list of Manufacturer entries in the WRC did not list a Mitsubishi team.

The Swedish Rally entry list was released on January 5th, and featured the same drivers listed as MMSP (Mitsubshi Motor Sports Program), albeit not as Manufacturer entries.

The confusing story became even more confusing when broke news on Jan 9th that Mitsubishi were not allowing the team to use its cars or its name. We did learn that the team was to be called the "Fly Emirates World Rally Team", but whether it would be able to continue, perhaps with a pair of Subaru WRC cars, remained a big question. So... back to square one.

Three days later, the team appeared to be back on track. Sort of. The Rally Norway entry list listed Gardemeister in a Lancer, this time alongside Citroen refugee Xevi Pons and Juha Haaninen, whilst Al-Qassami was listed in an Impreza WRC as the "Abu Dhabi Rally Team". It appeared as though Al-Qassami had grown impatient and taken his money elsewhere, whilst whoever was behind the Mitsu operation pushed forward.

A story on about Xavier Pons' role seemed to answer that "who" question. MMSP's ops manager confirmed that the team was no pipedream, but was looking to replace Al-Qassami's name due to the Saudi drivers' departure.

So what do we know now? I would guess that something like this happened: Mitsubishi wanted to return to the championship in a very limited way, not as a manufacturer, but on an event-by-event basis. When MMSP went about putting the program together they brought in Al-Qassami to help offset costs. A probable lack of communication between Mitsubishi and MMSP meant that there was no unified message to the media, one side believing it to be a full assault on the championship as a manufacturer, the other insisting it would not be (and that it would not support such an effort).

The good news is that we will see Mitsubishi in the WRC in 2007, with Toni Gardemeister and other top drivers, along with Khalid Al-Qassami in his own Subaru team. Any time that there's additional quality entries in the WRC, that's a good thing.

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