This weekend’s Rally Talsi in Latvia saw two days of varying degrees of success for MML Sports, the company born out of the successful Ralliart Europe operation. It netted an outright win for Ivars Vasaraudzis and Peteris Spredzis in their Mitsubishi Lancer WRC05 World Rally Car while the company also gained a huge amount of knowledge of its Group N Mitsubishi Lancer EvoX Group N rally car at the hands of reigning British Rally Champion, Guy Wilks.
Having won the event twice before, locals Vasaraudzis and Spredzis were firm favourites for the win and they didn’t disappoint. The pair were fastest on every stage of the event in their World Rally Car, run by MML Sports and dominated the leaderboard, to claim a convincing win with a margin of almost one and a half minutes by the end of the nine stages.
Team-mates Raimonds Kisiels and Gatis Panavs put in a solid performance over the weekend and were looking at a podium position until the final stage of the event, when a spin cost them time and dropped them down to fifth place.
However, most eyes were on the MML Sports Group N Mitsubishi Lancer EvoX, making its first competition debut in Latvia because of the incredibly high level of competition in the country.
A pre-event test resulted in major advances in the car’s suspension settings and hinted at genuine potential for the coming weekend.
The first day, Saturday, went reasonably well, with Wilks and co-driver Phil Pugh settling into the car and rallying in Latvia. A pair of top three stage times on the last of the first day’s two stages put Wilks and Pugh sixth in class, just 13 seconds behind the category leader, despite a 10-second penalty for a jumped start on the fourth stage.
However, Sunday would not be so straightforward. Their car began the day with an engine problem that severely restricted the power output. Despite constant attention throughout the day by the MML Sports technicians and attending HKS specialists, it wasn’t until the final service of the rally that the problem was diagnosed and partially rectified. This left just a single stage to run and little chance to recover any of the time lost throughout the day.
However, even with the engine issue not completely cured, Wilks and Pugh were just one second per kilometre slower than the eventual category winner and recorded a finish of tenth overall and seventh in class.
Commenting after the finish, Wilks said; “We were going alright on Saturday but not as well as we wanted to. Then we had problems on Sunday. Of course I’m disappointed but you have to remember that this is the first event for the car and there is clearly more to come with more testing. There were some issues that we weren’t able to rectify out here on the event and we just had to deal with them as best we could.
“Having said that, I would have been more disappointed if that was our pace and there were no problems. We have a much clearer idea of what the issues with the car are, how to address them and what direction to take to improve the car even further.”
Managing Director of MML Sports, John Easton, was also buoyed by the weekend’s event; “Sunday was obviously a frustrating day for us. The engine problem left the car with a severe power disadvantage and we weren’t able to trace it and begin correcting it until the final service.
“However, on a more positive note, we learned a huge amount about the car and that can only be done on rallies. I’ve said it before; you can carry out miles and miles of testing but it isn’t until you actually get into the heat of competition that you genuinely find out how a car works.
“We approached this event as a test to see what the car was capable of with a good driver in it and we have achieved that. We know what steps are necessary on the engine and we have already made significant improvements to the suspension with even more to come. We knew the first event would be a steep learning curve and we had a bit of bad luck but learned that fundamentally, it’s a good, well-balanced car with huge potential.
“I would say that this has been a successful first outing for the MML Sports EvoX. We have acquired lots of data and information and I’m pleased with that but at the same time, disappointed with the small problems and that we didn’t get a better result.
“We’ll now look forward to making those improvements ready for the next event.”
There were more reasons to be cheerful for MML Sports, as Csaba Spitzmuller finished second on the Salgotarjan Rally, the third round of the Hungarian Rally Championship and the third and final tarmac round of the series, his least favourite surface. He and co-driver Miki Kazar suffered no serious problems but several spins on the sealed surface roads, to claim second and second overall in the championship, with a five-point deficit heading into the gravel phase of the series.
Images from the 2009 Latvian Rally Championship can be found HERE.