MML Sports endured a weekend of mixed fortunes in Latvia on the Kurzeme Rally, with Raimonds Kisiels claiming his best-ever result, second overall behind a 2003 Ford Focus WRCar. However, championship leader Ivars Vasaraudzis retired from the event with a rare technical problem on his Mitsubishi Lancer WRCar while former British Champion Mark Higgins finished the event in eighth place and fifth in Group N at the wheel of the company’s GpN Mitsubishi Lancer EvoX.
As expected, Vasaraudzis was the class of the field from the outset, claiming five stage wins and three second places over the event’s first eight stages, to lead the event entering the final timed test.
However, two kilometres into the last stage, the car suffered a complete electrical shutdown following an impact with a large hole in the road. The crew went through the checklist to try to restore power but this took some ten minutes and by the time the car sprang back into life, the time lost meant that he and co-driver Petris Spredzis were out of the event.
Team-mate Kisiels had a much better rally however, gradually improving his pace and by the end, set a second-fastest stage time. He claimed second overall, his best personal result to date and a fantastic achievement.
In Group N, former multiple British Rally Champion Mark Higgins was impressed with the MML Sports EvoX, praising its engine and handling in particular. He went well on the two tight and technical superspecial stages that opened the event, and was third and second fastest in Group N respectively.
However, once the crews reached the ‘proper’ stages on Saturday morning, he struggled to match the local drivers and cars. He took the first gravel stage easy to settle into the car and on the second, unfamiliarity with the MML Sports’ EvoX meant he contested the stage with the centre differential switched off.
He pushed harder on the remainder of the stages but was unable to get closer to the local cars than fifth fastest in Group N, despite describing the MML Sports EvoX as the best Group N rally car he had driven. He eventually went on to finish the event eighth overall and fifth in Group N.
Russian driver Alexander Novoselov also impressed on his first competitive outing, finishing the event 31st overall and 14th in Group N, his first rally in competitive conditions.
Commenting, MML Sports Managing Director John Easton said; “This was a very frustrating weekend for MML Sports. The problem with Ivars’ car was extremely annoying, since it cleared but because it was a complete power failure, we don’t have any data before the failure to give us a direction. We spent the rest of the day testing on a local airfield but were unable to replicate the problem, so will carry out a complete investigation into the issue.
“What is most frustrating is that now, Ivars cannot win the championship this year. After foregoing the Latgale Rally to compete in Estonia, he needed to win on Kurzeme and Rally Latvia in a month’s time to take the title and that’s not possible now.
“On the other hand, I’m very pleased that Raimonds was able to take second overall – his best result to date. He is clearly adapting well to the car and both his driving and approach are benefiting greatly.
“I’m also very pleased with the way Mark tackled the event. His feedback from the car was extremely useful and he was very impressed with it, which is very heartening, as he has driven almost every Group N car in his career. However, it’s a shame that he wasn’t able to get closer to the local drivers and cars, despite trying as hard as possible. He’s clearly not a slow driver, as his three British titles show and we know he was fully committed – we saw from the data that he maintained 201kph for considerable time on some of the stages. But the locals are just too quick, it seems.
“I’m also very impressed with Alexander’s event. He was happy simply to be competing but to finish 31st and 14th in class – and more importantly for him, not last either overall or in class – is a huge achievement and I look forward to seeing him improve on Rally Latvia.”
The company will be out again in force at the end of September, when it will run Vasaraudzis and Kisiels in the Lancer WRCars, as well as British youngster Tom Cave, who will be driving the MML Sports GpN EvoX for the first time. Novoselov will also be taking part, along with several of his countrymen.