Last weekend gave the clearest demonstration yet that the MML Sports-developed Mitsubishi Lancer EvolutionX R4 has achieved its goal of closing the performance gap to the Super2000 specification of rally cars. Jari Ketomaa set a trio of fastest stage times on the Kurzeme Rally and was denied a possible event win due to a minor mechanical problem.
The MML Sports R4 EvoX has only been actively running since May and the company admits it is treating this season as a development year. Following a two-day test, where Ketomaa covered 140Km, the team was optimistic about the weekend's competition, which included Georg Gross in the Focus WRCar and FIA S-WRC pace-setter, Ott Tanak in his Fiesta S2000.
However, the chances of a representative result were hampered on the very first stage, as one of the Lancer's rear suspension arms failed. But even so, Ketomaa still managed to set the fastest time over the stage, hinting at the potential for the car.
The team took the decision to retire the car from the first of the rally's two days, to repair it ready for a return on day two. Naturally, the SupeRally regulations meant a penalty of ten minutes but neither Ketomaa nor the team were downcast by this.
Normal order was resumed at the beginning of the second day, with Ketomaa taking the win on the leg's very first timed test. He also took the win on the longest stage of the event, the 25Km Neste test and was only outside the top three times once throughout the day's eight stages. By the end of the event, he was 31st overall, 10m01.3s behind the leader. Clearly, without the ten-minute penalty, he would potentially have finished second, 1.3s behind Gross and 12s ahead of Tanak.
Commenting, MML Sports Managing Director John Easton said: "The suspension failure was incredibly frustrating - if we'd done one more run on the test, it would have failed then instead of on the first stage of the rally. But I think that we have very clearly demonstrated the speed of the car and the advances we have made in the three months since we first ran it. The fact that Jari managed to win the stage that the arm failed on says something...
"The car has now done more than 1000Km and considering it is still in its development phase, I'm pleased with the reliability and life of the components so far. OK, we've found a weak point and now we can do something about it - this is all part of the development process. We were just unlucky it happened on the event and not in the test.
"Overall, I'm very happy with the speed of the car and so is Jari. He feels that he is just going quicker and quicker, with more and more confidence and while we made significant progress on the test, there is still more to come.
"We saw this weekend that our R4 Lancer EvoX is genuinely on the pace with the aspirated S2000 cars on gravel now. I consider Jari and Ott [Tanak] to be comparable drivers, in terms of ability and speed and Tanak is clearly one of the front-runners in the S-WRC, so this is very encouraging."
The next outing for the MML Sports R4 Lancer will be the finale of the Latvian Rally Championship, Rally Latvia, on 24 September, when Ketomaa will again take the wheel.