Phoenix from the flames; MML Sports ready for action

Following one of the most famous losses in motorsport, when the ultra-successful Ralliart Europe operation was closed, the core expertise responsible for five world rally titles for Mitsubishi has been resurrected to create MML Sports Ltd. Based in the same headquarters as the multiple title-winning works Mitsubishi rally team and comprising the same core personnel that delivered one manufacturer and four driver titles to the Japanese marque, MML Sports will pick up where Ralliart Europe left off.

The creation of the new company has been driven by Managing Director John Easton, formerly the Operations Director at Ralliart Europe and as it subsequently became known, Mitsubishi Motorsports. The original rally operation was closed down by Mitsubishi following a unsuccessful period under a management team imposed on Ralliart Europe. Following this, Easton and a handful of former employees saw the potential for the operation to offer the motorsport marketplace the decades-worth of winning experience that reside in the unassuming Rugby-based operation.

Protracted negotiations by Easton, with the support of Latvian businessmen Valdis Spredzis and Andris Dambis, eventually resulted in the formation of MML Sports, an independent organisation in its own right. With that came the hardware that went with Mitsubishi’s 2005 FIA World Rally Championship campaign, including several Lancer WRC05 World Rally Cars and the full range of support equipment.

While the Mitsubishi Lancer World Rally Car wasn’t able to consistently deliver the results that Mitsubishi required, Easton was able to offer cars to a number of privateers last season, with excellent results. While the process of securing the operation was taking place in the background, Easton and the remaining staff ran a Lancer WRC in Hungary for driver Csaba Spitzmuller and co-driver Miki Kazar, who won the championship outright. They also ran cars in Latvia for Ivars Vasaraudzis and co-driver Valdis Spredzis, who again took their national championship spoils.

But there’s far more than simply providing World Rally Cars and on-event support to MML Sports’ offering. The infrastructure put in place to develop the Lancer WRCars from scratch in 2004 also forms part of the company’s portfolio and with it, every aspect of developing a world class rally car from a clean sheet of paper. State-of-the-art computer design and modelling, bodyshell preparation and test, component manufacture, quality control, electronics, engine and transmission assembly and test and of course, car build as well as logistics and hospitality are all elements of what MML Sports can now offer clients.

This means that MML Sports is able to offer teams as well as manufacturers a full-house development programme, from development work on existing projects to creating a winning car from scratch: All with the advantage of the knowledge and existing infrastructure ready to begin work within a matter of days.

The company is also already well down the road of developing the next generation of Group N Mitsubishi, the Lancer EvoX. MML Sports has recently completed the fabrication work on its test car, which is currently being trial assembled, prior to setting the final specification and its first test. It anticipates that the first Group N Lancer EvoX will begin its set-up testing in February 2009, ready for customers to place orders for cars in early 2009 and certainly in plenty of time for the start of the ‘09 rally season.

A by-product of developing the Group N Specification EvoX will be a range of aftermarket performance conversions for road-going Evos. Since Group N is effectively showroom class, many of the safety and performance modifications will be applicable to road cars and anticipation of these packages has already got the Lancer community excited, with forums buzzing with talk of rally-inspired road cars.

Commenting on the news, MML Sports Managing Director John Easton said: “I am delighted that we were able to ensure that the expetise that has developed within the Rugby facility can continue to flourish. It would have been an absolute travesty to see the experience and hardware go to waste. There are 20 years of experience, one manufacturer and four driver titles within this building and that simply could not be allowed to disappear.

“The creation of MML Sports from what was Ralliart Europe means that we have no less than eight Mitsubishi Lancer WRC05 World Rally Cars available to private competitors and as Csaba and Ivars have shown, in the right hands, it is a potent and successful tool for any championship. However, there is far more to what we offer.

“For a new manufacturer interested in entering the sport, the existing structure and facilities here mean that there are no up-front set-up issues, both in terms of time and financial commitments. We can be ready to begin development work a matter of days after reaching agreement, giving them a huge head-start over other marques who have to start from the very beginning.

“We’re also very excited about the Group N EvoX project. The car is a huge step forward from the previous generations of Lancers, which were incredibly successful in their own right. It uses a brand new engine and the work we have carried out so far developing the bodyshell suggests that the car will be very competitive once we finalise the specification.

“That will then spin-off applications for road cars. There’s already a genuine buzz about the prospect of modifying packages for the road-going Mitsubishi market developed by the former works rally team, so we’re very excited about that as well.”