31 Jan 08
Former Mitsubishi factory driver Uwe Nittel will return to the World Rally Championship for the first time since 2000, when he begins his 2008 Production Car WRC title campaign in Sweden.
Nittel drove for both the full works Mitsubishi Ralliart team and satellite outfit Ralliart Gemany in 1997 and 1998, with his best result coming on the '97 Monte when he and Tina Thorner collected fifth overall in their Lancer Evolution III. Since then, however, Nittel has competed sporadically, until he put the deal together with an Italian team to tackle this year's Production series in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX.
Nittel will face stiff competition in Sweden, however, as the Production Car field embarks on what's sure to be one of the most competitive seasons in history. Reigning champion Toshi Arai gets his title defence underway in Karlstad, albeit with new co-driver Glenn Macneall sitting alongside after Tony Sircombe retired at the end of last year.
In addition to Nittel's Mitsubishi, there will be a plethora of Lancers out there hoping to clinch the title for the first time. Red Bull has doubled its Production Car effort, with former circuit racer, 20-year-old Bernardo Sousa joining Andrea Aigner in the team. Aigner was one of the stars of last year’s series and his proven pace will be enough for him to fight for victory on all events he starts. Portuguese Armindo Araujo was another find from last season and, once again, he will be one to watch as the year progresses. Fumio Nutahara, Juho Hanninen and Martin Rauam are the other front-running Mitsubishi drivers.
Subaru Team USA will begin the competition on the second round, in Argentina, and will field cars for Travis Pastrana and Ken Block, both of whom will contest three rounds of the Production category alongside a domestic championship programme in America. Pastrana just missed out on the perfect start to his season when he retired from lead of the Sno-Drift Rally in Michigan after hitting a deer in his Impreza WRX.