The MML Sports Group N Mitsubishi Lancer EvoX rally car underwent a successful shakedown test this week in preparation for its competition debut next weekend in Latvia. Reigning British Rally Champion Guy Wilks drove the car, ahead of an event-specific test in Latvia immediately before he gives the car its competition debut on the 2009 BTA Rally Talsi.
This was the first time that Wilks had driven the car, following initial test and set-up work by MML Sports and its test driver. And despite the fact that the UK test day was more about shaking the car down and carrying out engine mapping work, the BRC champion was upbeat about the MML Sports Group N EvoX and the forthcoming event.
“I understand that generally, the EvoX is considered to be a step forward from the EvoIX I’ve been used to. The rear of the car is apparently more stable and the engine characteristics are quite different. My first impression of the MML Sport EvoX was good; the car felt well put together. However, it’s impossible to gauge just how competitive it is likely to be, since today’s testing was more about familiarisation, systems checking and mapping work on the engine.
“It won’t be until we get to a gravel road next week at the pre-event test that we will find out more about how it behaves and its potential. And then, once we start the event, we’ll see for sure how good it is.
“I think what’s important though is that the MML Sports team has a huge amount of experience and the decision to drive the MML Sports EvoX in Latvia was a bit of a no-brainer. For me, if I don’t think that the car can win, I won’t bother driving it. The only way for me is forward and I need to know that everything is right and that’s definitely the case with MML Sports.”
The decision to debut the car in Latvia was taken primarily because of the level of competition in the Baltic nation. Latvia has one of the longest and richest histories in rallying and according to MML Sports Managing Director John Easton, was the obvious choice to debut the car.
“We chose Latvia because we feel it will be the best proving ground for our EvoX. Rallying is incredibly competitive over there and there are a lot of top-specification Group N cars competing. In addition, on this event there will be some exceptional drivers, including locals, Finns and champions, so there will be genuine competition for Guy. We’re expecting something in the region of 40 top class Group N cars, including EvoIXs and EvoXs, so we will have a genuine understanding of how competitive our car is.
“We chose Guy to drive the car as he is clearly a quick driver; double British champion and when you look at his time in the Production car World Rally Championship, he was quicker than any of the drivers out there. He’s also very sensible and has lots of EvoIX experience, which means he will be able to give excellent feedback to the team.
“I think both the team and Guy realise that this weekend won’t be a walk in the park; he’ll have to drive well and as a team, we’ll use all of our experience to get the best result possible.”
The 2009 BTA Talsi Rally will take place on the 16th and 17th May and is the 29th running of the event. The event marks the transition from the winter part of the Latvian championship to the summer season, since the events preceding Talsi are run on snow and ice. Spectator interest in rallying in Latvia is generally incredibly high but Talsi regularly tops the scales with 40,000 fans expected to attend the 100Km event next weekend.
The rally begins with a double-run superspecial around the streets of Talsi town on Saturday afternoon, showcasing the drivers for the fans before the remainder of the rally stages on Sunday. However, with a relatively short total distance, the sting in the tail will be the final stage, which comprises almost 33% of the total competitive running, at 33.4Km.
This year’s event is shaping up to be something of a ‘Rally of Champions’. British Champion Wilks will be facing competition from Finnish champion Juha Salo, the Latvian champion Aivis Egle, Lithuanian champion Vytautas Svedas and the Estonian champion, Ott Tanak.
There will be more work in store for the MML Sports team as well, since in addition to its own EvoX, the team will also be running a pair of Mitsubishi Lancer WRC05 World Rally Cars. One will be driven by Ivars Vasaraudzis and Peteris Spredzis and the other, Raimonds Kisiels and Gatis Panavs. Vasaraudzis and Spredzis won the event outright for the last two years and therefore, are firm favourites for this year’s overall honours.
The organisers have included an added attraction for spectators, with a ‘Drift-off’ following the finish of the event, matching drivers competing in the rally with the best of Latvia’s drift drivers to see who has the best sideways skills.