Mitsubishi Lancer WRC: beginning and end of a dream

gilles panizzi, mitsubishi lancer wrc image by leonid mamchenkov

In the end, World Rally Car concept proved to offer performance advantages that even Mitsubishi couldn’t ignore and Lancer WRC was introduced in San Remo 2001. Despite called Lancer, the car is actually based on sister-model Cedia.

The Mitsubishi Lancer WRC is a World Rally Car built by Ralliart, Mitsubishi Motors’ motorsport division, to compete in the World Rally Championship. The previous Lancer Evolution series were homologated for the Group A class, and their competitiveness against World Rally Cars from other manufacturers was therefore limited.

While all other teams had immediately switched to World Rally Cars, Mitsubishi continued to run Group A Lancer for years even though they got waivers to deviate from strict Group A rules so that late Evo’s no longer were pure Group A cars. In the end, World Rally Car concept proved to offer performance advantages that even Mitsubishi couldn’t ignore and Lancer WRC was introduced in San Remo 2001. Despite called Lancer, the car is actually based on sister-model Cedia.

Lancer WRC was developed in relatively short time and many key component were carried over from Group A Lancer. Engine was largely same though internal dimensions were different and certain parts had been lightened to decrease rotating part inertia. Drivetrain was exactly the same which in the end proved to be one of the weak points of the car.

Improvements that WRCar format allowed were longer suspension travel because of larger wheel arches, improved cooling with new intercooler positioning and rearward tilt of the engine to improve weight distribution. Rear suspension was changed to McPherson struts and wheelbase was longer though car’s overall length remained almost the same.

Refined version, known as WRC Step 2 or WRC2 for short, was introduced in Finland 2002 but it was not a big step ahead. Car which had essentially been built around Tommi Makinen, required aggressive left-foot braking approach and team’s non-scandinavian drivers Delecour and Alister McRae struggled to get in terms with that. In the end, Mitsubishi decided to take sabbatical to organise their efforts.

WRC

The Lancer Evolution WRC is powered by the same 1996 cc 4G63 engine that has been used in its sports and rally cars since the 1980s, in this iteration producing 300 PS (221 kW; 296 hp) at 5500 rpm and 540 N⋅m (398 lb⋅ft) at 3500 rpm. The car debuted at the 2001 Rallye Sanremo, after a relatively short development (Ralliart could not introduce the Lancer WRC later because of a contract they made with the FIA in 1999, which allowed them to run the old specification Lancers). The model was based on the then-new eighth-generation Cedia model, of which the road-going Evolution VII is based on. The WRC rules allowed more freedom in most areas of the car, therefore the engineers were able to make changes to the car they couldn’t do to the older Group A Lancers. These changes included modifications to the engine and its surroundings (lighter internal parts, more rearward tilt to optimize the front weight distribution, new turbo and new exhaust system), but the most significant change was made to the suspensions: now both the front and rear suspensions were MacPhersons, and also bigger wheel arches were implemented, allowing more suspension travel. However, the drivetrain remained the same as before, and when Tommi Mäkinen left the team at the end of 2001, the new drivers couldn’t get on with this special transmission, which required an aggressive left-foot braking approach. The original Evo WRC (sometimes referred to as Step1) was replaced with Step2 from 2002 Finland onwards.

WRC02

The Lancer Evolution WRC02 (also called the Step2) is also powered by the 4G63, also producing 300 PS (221 kW) at 5500 rpm and 540 N⋅m (398 lb⋅ft) at 3500 rpm. It is mated to a 6-speed sequential transmission via a triple-plate carbon clutch and distributes power to all four wheels via front-, centre- and rear- active differentials. The car’s suspension is independent, with MacPherson struts and coil springs at each corner. The brakes are vented discs clamped by 6-piston calipers at the front and 4-piston calipers at the rear. The car debuted at the 2002 Rally Finland. Changes to the Evo WRC included better weight distribution and a lower centre of gravity, different front air dam to increase airflow to the radiators, a new intercooler, new exhaust manifold and a single-scroll turbocharger, and new engine parts (lightened crankshaft, flywheel and other rotating parts). The suspension was also updated to offer more travel and rigidity, and slight changes were also made to the transmission (to suit more the very different driving style of McRae and Delecour). Mitsubishi pulled out of the WRC at the end of 2002, but in 2003 they used this car for developmental purposes on some WRC events, with McRae clinching a 6th place at the 2003 Rally New Zealand.

WRC04

In 2004, Mitsubishi returned to the WRC with the Lancer WRC04, featuring over 6000 changes compared to the Step2 used in 2002 and 2003. The car continued with the 4G63 engine, mounted to a 5-speed semi-automatic transmission (at the start of the season, Mitsubishi used a completely passive transmission before switching to active differentials) and a new all-wheel-drive system co-developed by Ricardo Consulting Engineers and Mitsubishi Motors Motorsports (MMSP). The bodywork was subjected to extensive aerodynamic testing at the Lola Cars wind tunnel (this resulted in the completely new front air dam, the new wheel arches, and the interesting, shopping trolley handle-like rear spoiler). The front brakes were upgraded to 8-piston calipers clamping 370 mm (15 in) discs. The car suffered from frustrating mechanical and electrical glitches (in New Zealand, both cars retired on the start line of the first stage due to electrical issues). Mitsubishi did not complete a full 2004 season, since they continued to develop and test the car outside the WRC, but with little result in 2004; however, the car had some good moments and seemed to be promising after more development.

The lead Lancer WRC04 in the 2004 World Rally Championship was driven by ex-Peugeot driver Gilles Panizzi, with his brother Hervé as co-driver. The other pairings were Gianluigi Galli with Guido D’Amore, Daniel Solá with Xavier Amigo, and Kristian Sohlberg with Kaj Lindstrom.

WRC05

The Lancer WRC05 saw no significant changes, but the car’s width was increased by 30 mm (1.2 in) due to a change in the WRC regulations. The engine remained the same, but the ECU and the turbo wastegate were updated. Aerodynamic alterations to the bodywork were introduced to improve stability and to accommodate the new, wider track, while suspension links and driveshafts were lengthened. Steering-mounted gearshift paddles were also introduced, and longer ratios were adopted for first, third, and fourth gears. The car showed great promise since Panizzi took 3rd place in Monte Carlo, and ex-Peugeot man Rovanpera was fast on gravel events, eventually clinching a 2nd place at the last round in Australia, but soon after that Mitsubishi pulled out of the WRC, and only returned through Ralliart UK, who took over the cars and supported private and semi-works entries in 2006 and 2007. At 2006 Rally Sweden, local driver Daniel Carlsson made the podium with a 3rd place in the Värmland forests, in such an entry. Daniel battled for seconds, just into the finish line, with teammate Gigi Galli, who settled for the fourth spot.

To maintain some competitiveness for customer uses of the car, MML Sports (formerly Ralliart UK) made some development to the car, including an updated suspension, transmission and other, minor changes. This resulted in the car (sometimes called the WRC07) being faster than the WRC05 by a massive 0.5sec/km.