The Mitsubishi Motors UK Rally Team got the defence of its 2008 British Rally Championship campaign off to a flying start this weekend, when Guy Wilks and co-driver Phil Pugh scored a resounding victory in round one, the Pirelli International...
The Mitsubishi Motors UK Rally Team got the defence of its 2008 British Rally Championship campaign off to a flying start this weekend, when Guy Wilks and co-driver Phil Pugh scored a resounding victory in round one, the Pirelli International Rally. Team-mates Phillip Morrow and Daniel Barritt also put in a great performance, finishing fourth overall in what was Morrow's debut as a Mitsubishi works driver.
Starting and finishing in Carlisle, the Pirelli Rally featured four stages on Friday evening followed by a further ten on Saturday, all of the rally's 105 competitive miles taking place over the demanding gravel roads in Kielder Forest.
With Wilks being the reigning British Champion he started the season as clear favourite, but against drivers such as three-times British Champion and his arch rival Mark Higgins, plus regular PWRC competitors Juho Hanninen and Patrik Flodin - and former British Champion David Higgins, the task of winning would not be easy.
However, Wilks was straight on the case and emerged from the first stage with a lead of 4.3 seconds ahead of Mark Higgins, who was followed by his brother David and then Hanninen. Morrow was fourth, having survived a big moment when he momentarily dropped his Mitsubishi into a ditch and although not losing much time, the incident knocked his confidence, especially as it was his first ever stage in the works Mitsubishi.
As Morrow collected his thoughts during the next three stages, Wilks forged ahead, although in the slippery conditions he too briefly dropped two wheels into one of Kielder's infamous ditches on SS4.
As crews entered parc ferme for the overnight halt, the score-board revealed a perfect start for Wilks and, after winning every stage so far, he had pulled-out a lead of 24 seconds ahead of second-placed Hanninen. Mark and David Higgins followed, with Flodin fifth and Morrow sixth, who admitted he had checked his pace for the remainder of Friday's stages.
After a good-night's sleep, Morrow showed his potential on Saturday's first test and went four seconds faster than anyone else. Wilks was second fastest on this occasion after finding that, as first car on the road, he was clearing loose gravel off the surface . With SS6 cancelled, the two Mitsubishis were again the fastest cars on the following stage and, when teams entered the first service halt of the day, Wilks had stretched his lead to 46 seconds ahead of Hanninen, who reported a heart-stopping top-gear spin in SS7. Morrow was now up to third and hunting down Mark Higgins, who was nearly a minute ahead.
SS8 saw Morrow start to get closer to his prey as the engine in Higgins' car started to expire. But, on the very next stage, something went adrift in the transmission of Morrow's car and he found himself without fourth and fifth gears. Although having to negotiate the next two stages before the service halt with just first, second and third, Morrow did well to drop just 20 seconds, but it meant that David Higgins had pulled in front.
As soon as Morrow reached the service area, the Mitsubishi team set about changing the gearbox and did so in an astonishing 18 minutes, which meant that no penalties were accrued by going beyond the 20 minutes of allocated service time.
With Morrow now 30 seconds ahead of Flodin and 10 seconds behind Higgins, he started the last loop of three stages aiming for third place, but mindful not to push too hard and that a finish was the most important item on the agenda for both him and the team.
After a determined but calculated run to the finish, the results showed that Morrow was only seven seconds behind Higgins and had consolidated his forth place. Wilks' pace however was relentless and he crossed the line to take his second Pirelli Rally victory in succession -- the first time this feat has been achieved since Malcolm Wilson scored back-to-back wins in 1979 and 1980. With a final margin of 65 seconds ahead of Hanninen, Wilks' only concern during the day was the negotiation of a fallen tree on stage 11.
For the Mitsubishi team it was a great start to the season. Their attentions now turn to the second round of the Tesco 99 Octane MSA British Rally Championship and the first asphalt event of the year, the Jim Clark Rally on 24th & 25th May.
The Mitsubishi Motors UK rally team is sponsored by Lovell Group and Virgin Money. It is also supported by its technical partners: Sparco, Speedline Corse, PIAA, Ricardo, and Performance Friction Brakes.
"It's great to carry on from where we left off. I immediately felt comfortable with the new car - and it ran perfectly from start to finish. Although we won by a significant margin the quality of the field meant that it was no foregone conclusion, so I'm very happy to have come out on top against such tough competition. I'm also pleased that things went according to plan. We pulled out a lead on Friday night and then, without taking risks, we were able to extend our advantage while others played catch-up on Saturday. A perfect start to the season."
"I'm happy with fourth place. It would have been great to get onto the podium in my first event with the works team, but I didn't want to push too hard and spoil things. Once I got over the moment on the first stage I was happy that I was able to stay on the pace and really pleased to take a fastest stage time. It was a shame about the gearbox, but the lads did an amazing job to change it so quickly. Overall I'm very satisfied with the way things went and pleased that it was such a successful weekend for the team."
"I am delighted with the result. The weekend went really well for the whole team and to come away with a win and forth place - and leading the teams championship is a great start for us. What can you say about Guy? He drove a perfect rally. I'm also very pleased with Phillip's performance. He used his head and pushed-on when he felt comfortable enough to do so. He overcame problems really well and I am sure he could have made it onto the podium. I must also praise the team for their work. It was another great job all-round. We now look forward to next event and the change to a tarmac surface."