A Fistful Of Aces

Browse pages
Current page

1

Current page

2

Current page

3

Current page

4

Current page

5

Current page

6

Current page

7

Current page

8

Current page

9

Current page

10

Current page

11

Current page

12

Current page

13

Current page

14

Current page

15

Current page

16

Current page

17

Current page

18

Current page

19

Current page

20

Current page

21

Current page

22

Current page

23

Current page

24

Current page

25

Current page

26

Current page

27

Current page

28

Current page

29

Current page

30

Current page

31

Current page

32

Current page

33

Current page

34

Current page

35

Current page

36

Current page

37

Current page

38

Current page

39

Current page

40

Current page

41

Current page

42

Current page

43

Current page

44

Current page

45

Current page

46

Current page

47

Current page

48

Current page

49

Current page

50

Current page

51

Current page

52

Current page

53

Current page

54

Current page

55

Current page

56

Current page

57

Current page

58

Current page

59

Current page

60

Current page

61

Current page

62

Current page

63

Current page

64

Current page

65

Current page

66

Current page

67

Current page

68

Current page

69

Current page

70

Current page

71

Current page

72

Current page

73

Current page

74

Current page

75

Current page

76

Current page

77

Current page

78

Current page

79

Current page

80

Current page

81

Current page

82

Current page

83

Current page

84

Current page

85

Current page

86

Current page

87

Current page

88

Current page

89

Current page

90

Current page

91

Current page

92

Current page

93

Current page

94

Current page

95

Current page

96

Current page

97

Current page

98

Current page

99

Current page

100

Current page

101

Current page

102

Current page

103

Current page

104

Current page

105

Current page

106

Current page

107

Current page

108

Current page

109

Current page

110

Current page

111

Current page

112

Current page

113

Current page

114

Current page

115

Current page

116

Current page

117

Current page

118

Current page

119

Current page

120

Overnight success for Mitsubishi is the result of years of experience, says David Williams

Andrew Cowan and Phil Short, the men who run RaIliart Europe, are cautious, sober-sided characters, no more likely to take a wild gamble than make a joint entry for the Eurovision Song Contest; which may explain why Cowan seemed almost taken aback by Tommi Makinen’s crushing victory in this year’s World Rally Championship. Clinching the title with five wins in seven starts two on rallies that neither team nor driver had attempted before exceeded Mitsubishi’s wildest dreams, not to mention every promise that the wary Scot had made to his masters in Japan and to his lead driver.

“It’s unbelievable, even to me, how easy he makes it,” reflected a beaming Cowan al the finish of the Rally Australia. The Asia-Pacific title that is ostensibly Mitsubishi’s chief target may have gone to Kenneth Eriksson after his defection to Subaru, but every other gamble the team had taken had paid off. Makinen’s three accidents (that’s as many as Colin McRae this year) were understandably, even rightly buried in a wave of title-winning euphoria. Most of them had been on rallies that didn’t count not in Tommi’s eyes, at any rate.

More remarkable still, this was the first time that either Mitsubishi or Makinen had contested the World Championship in full. Probing deeper uncovers the old truth that statistics are apt to mislead, because success wasn’t quite instananeous. Ralliart Europe has been a major World Championship player since 1989, a year in which it won more World Championshp rallies than Toyota, and Makinen first made an impact on the world scene as long ago as 1990, driving a Group N Galant. While the latter has struggled long and hard to get a plum works drive, Mitsubishi’s problem (as opposed to Ralliart’s) has been one of focus and commitment. Put simply, one stands a much better chance of winning a championship by turning up for every round of it, sometimes, success is just a question of mathematics.

It is also a matter of experience, The Lancer E3 was the team’s mainstay in 1995 and Makinen one of its drivers, yet neither showed this degree of dominance. The car is undoubtedly the pick of the bunch its motorcycle-derived Ohlins shock absorbers are almost infinitely adjustabie and their independent reservoirs give them an unrivalled ability to ride bumps and enhance traction. The latest turbo rules have played into Mitsubishi’s hands, because the smaller 34mm turbo restrictor has magnified the importance of low-rev torque and, alone of the top four-wheel drive cars, the Lancer has an unfashionable long-stroke engine. Rival teams have been gloomily contemplating that suspension travel and encroaching chassis rails won’t let them change the bore and stroke ratios of their 1997 cars, which indicates the extent of the advantage. The Lancer also has the biggest intercooler and cooling apertures.

All this applied last year. The biggest change has come within Makinen himself. In 1995, his natural amiability was often submerged in squabbling with his team-mate or team management and his desperation to succeed led to a string of accidents. This season, he has been positively serene. His confidence has grown with each victory, to the point where he seems as invincible as Hannu Mikkola or Miki Biasion in their prime.

“Last year I was nearly everywhere first time and it is so much easier this year. I can do it easily without any bigger risk,” he explained. His coolness under pressure has astonished his team, but the remarkable switch in his fortunes also highlights the significance of the recce restrictions which now limit drivers to three runs over most stages. It’s a fraction of the mileage covered by newcomers and established stars alike in the past.

As he acknowledges, Makinen’s title is also the product of failure or absence elsewhere. The ban on Toyota Team Europe ensured that several of the world’s finest drivers, notably Didier Aunol and Juha Kankkunen, have spent much of the year on the sidelines. It has also prompted Michelin to devote much more attention to Mitsubishi. However, Colin McRae has conspicuously failed to withstand the weight of expectation of being World Champion, or come to terms with fighting a superior car. Instead, he has wrecked three Imprezas and Prodrive’s exasperation will lead to a co-driver swap from Derek Ringer to Kankkunen’s partner, Nicky Grist, in 1997. Meanwhile, Carlos Sainz (probably still the finest all-round driver) has been hampered by Ford’s uneven performance and lamentable unreliability.

The rotation system has also played its part, Makinen is at his weakest on asphalt, but the demotion of the Monte Carlo Rally and the Tour of Corsica to two-wheel drive status this year meant that he had buttoned up the title before tar entered the equation. He expects 1997 to be more difficult.

It has been the most one-sided championship since Lancia used to run rings round the Japanese, for which some credit should go to the FIA. That isn’t a back-handed compliment. By insisting that participants should contest the World Rally Championship in full, as they do in Formula One, the FIA forced Mitsubishi to take the championship seriously for the first time, even if it did take some ingenious re-negotiating of Ralliart’s brief from Cowan and Short. Neither the lesson nor the opportunity will be lost on manufacturers contemplating their prospects under the forthcoming World Rally Car rules.

Related articles

Related products