- First event win for Tristan Bailey in the UK
- Podium finish for Rifat Sungkar in Rally America
- Excellent pace ends in accident for Antoine L'Estage
Last weekend saw mixed fortunes for drivers of cars prepared by MML Sports, the company formed from the works Mitsubishi rally team. Tristan Bailey took his first outright event win in the UK in his Mitsubishi Lancer WRC and Rifat Sungkar, whose Libra Racing Mitsubishi Lancer EvoX Open Class car uses components from MML Sports' R4 conversion kit, finished on the podium of the Oregon Trail Rally, round three of the Rally America series. Multiple champion Antoine L'Estage had a less fortunate event though, going off the road and retiring after claiming two stage wins on the same event.
Bailey had been competing in his Mitsubishi Lancer WRC for two seasons and despite having showed excellent pace and understanding of the car, had yet to translate these into an outright win. However, that would change on the Corinium Stages at Down Ampney airfield.
Bailey and co-driver James How enjoyed a rally-long battle with Gary le Coadou and Martyn England with the three crews swapping times across the eight stages. Bailey took the fastest time on three and by the end of the event, held a slender winning margin of three seconds over le Coadou with England a further 40s behind.
Across the Pond, the third round of the Rally America series was taking place, the Oregon Trail rally. Starting at the Portland Raceway, the event comprised two full days of competition but it began badly for Sungkar, who hit a large rock as he completed the second stage of the event. However, as this was immediately before a service halt, the Libra Racing team was able to carry out repairs and he continued.
He and British co-driver Marshall Clarke were holding fifth place as the final day began but improved steadily, as Sungkar admitted he was following Clarke's advice of not looking at stage times, just driving as fast as he felt was safe. The result was a podium finish for the Indonesian driver on his first event in the USA.
L'Estage was heading into the event holding second place in the Rally America points standings and was upbeat about his chances of bringing the fight to David Higgins and Ken Block with his new MML Sports-prepared Mitsubishi Lancer WRC. Two fastest stage times and a second-fastest early on in the event meant that he was second overall as the crews headed for the afternoon loop of stages on day two.
However, he mis-heard a pace note from co-driver Nathalie Richard on a fast uphill section and the car left the road and plunged over a small cliff, coming to rest well below the level of the road. While both Antoine and Nathalie were unharmed, thanks to the strength of the Lancer WRC's safety cell, they were unable to continue.
Commenting after the weekend, MML Sports Managing Director John Easton said; "It's been a pretty good weekend for us, despite Antoine and Nathalie retiring from the Oregon Trail rally. Antoine's pace in the Lancer WRC was clear and he was definitely getting to grips with the car and how to drive it. I think two stage wins and a second fastest demonstrates that and I'm sure once we repair the car, he will be able to continue to fight for rally wins.
"I think Rifat's performance this weekend was excellent. We know he's a quick driver but to come here for the first time and walk away with a podium finish is a superb result. He had a few moments along the way but the blend of his speed, Marshall's experience, our R4 components and the professionalism of the Libra Racing team proved a powerful combination.
"I am also very pleased that Tristan has taken an overall win in his Lancer WRC. We knew it would only be a matter of time before this happened, as his pace and results have been improving consistently and I'm sure there will be more to come now."