This year's Wales Rally GB provided the perfect outcome for the Mitsubishi Motors UK Works Rally Team, when Guy Wilks became British Rally Champion for the second season in a row and Mitsubishi retained its British Team's Championship ...
This year's Wales Rally GB provided the perfect outcome for the Mitsubishi Motors UK Works Rally Team, when Guy Wilks became British Rally Champion for the second season in a row and Mitsubishi retained its British Team's Championship crown.
Co-driven by Phil Pugh, Wilks drove a faultless rally, taking his third Tesco 99 Octane MSA British Rally Championship win of the season in the process. Team mates Gwyndaf Evans and Gareth Roberts - who was partnering the experienced Welshman for the first time - also drove an excellent rally to ensure a two-car finish, which enabled Mitsubishi to achieve what it had set out to do since the start of the year: to win the Driver's and Team's titles.
The 15th and final round of this year's World Rally Championship also hosted the last two rounds of the Tesco 99 Octane MSA British Rally Championship. Following the ceremonial start in Cardiff on Thursday evening, Friday's eight stages in the forests of mid and south Wales formed round six of the BRC, whilst the following seven on Saturday and four on Sunday constituted round seven.
With brothers Mark and David Higgins on 78 points and Wilks on 76, following round five in Yorkshire, the scene was set for the battle to win the British Driver's title - plus, with just a three points gap at the top of the table - the British Team's title as well.
The sub-zero temperatures during the week leading up to the event meant that many of the forestry roads were covered with a layer of ice, the conditions forcing organisers to cancel stage one and its later re-run as stage four. They also shortened stages two, three, five and six, which meant the day's competitive distance was reduced from 124 to less than 50 kilometres.
Straight out of the box, Evans was the fastest British Championship and overall Group N runner, catching the others napping by setting a time three seconds faster than Mark Higgins, who was just 0.3 seconds ahead of Wilks. However, the conditions were far from ideal, with competitors reporting the stages punctuated with undetectable patches of ice.
The first of the BRC drivers to be caught out by the lack of grip was Mark Higgins, who went off the road in SS3, the second stage of the day and damaged his Subaru too badly to continue. Evans was slowed when he caught a car ahead of him, which meant that when cars entered the remote service halt, Wilks was 25 seconds ahead of his team-mate and the two works Mitsubishi's were now first and second.
With hardly any improvement in the conditions, crews embarked on a second run of the two previous stages. Wilks was now in the zone and began to increase his lead in both the British and Production World Rally Championship standings, but for Evans it was a different story. With the ford in Myherin now much deeper for SS6 than it was the first time through for SS3, the water found its way onto his car's electrics and it was only after some enthusiastic pushing that he was able to get going, albeit with three minutes lost.
Following good runs through the final two stages in Walters Arena, Wilks arrived for the overnight halt in Swansea 30 seconds ahead of Patrik Flodin in second and nearly a minute ahead of David Higgins in third and Evans in fourth.
With his third victory of the season now in the bag, Wilks was a step closer to his second driver's title and consequently Mitsubishi were on target to retain the team's trophy. As it turned out, Mitsubishi's position was improved for the first of Saturday's seven stages. After his team had repaired the car - and re-starting under SuperRally regulations - Mark Higgins suffered a deja-vu moment and went off on the ice again, but this time it was terminal.
This immediately took the pressure off Wilks, who was now almost guaranteed his second successive British title. And then, on the very next stage, Mitsubishi's retention of the team's title also became more likely when David Higgins suffered a similar fate to that of his brother.
But it was not plain sailing for the incumbent 2008 champion, when a loose intercooler pipe in stage 10 slowed his progress, allowing Flodin and Evans to get ahead. However, it was not the last of Wilks' delays: a spongy brake pedal in SS12 meant he was a minute late booking into SS13 - having had to bleed the brakes at the side of the road - and then, just a mile from the end of SS14, a shaft broke in his cars transmission.
Now with just two wheel-drive, he set off on the long road section to and from Cardiff for the spectator stage in the Millennium Stadium where the biggest cheer of the night was reserved for his team-mate, Evans' home crowd delighted to see their local hero set fastest BRC and second-fastest PWRC time in the stadium. Following this stage, the team were relieved to see Wilks car drive into the Swansea service park on Saturday night, where the engineers proceeded to change the gearbox well within the 45 minutes of allocated time.
Although only two runs of two stages in the south-Wales forests remained for Sunday, there was still 96 kilometres left to go and both Mitsubishi drivers were instructed to bring their cars home to confirm the two British titles. Again, the freezing overnight temperatures meant that this was going to be no easy task.
With the concentration clearly seen on their faces, Wilks and Evans kept their nerve in the intermittently slippery conditions and, without putting a foot wrong, came through the first pair of stages without a hitch and proceeded to do exactly the same on the second.
The Mitsubishi team were therefore delighted when both cars crossed the finish line in Cardiff, confirming that Guy Wilks was British Champion Driver for the second time and Mitsubishi the British Team's Champions for the third. Although only competing on four of the season's seven rounds, Evans concluded his season by finishing fourth in the BRC driver's standings.
The team's two Lancer Evolution IXs are built by Chesterfield-based ADR Motorsport, who also provide the on-event technical support. The team is sponsored by Lovell Group and Virgin Money, together with its technical partners: HKS, Sparco, Speedline Corse, PIAA and Ricardo.
"After the season all of us in the team have had it's great to have come out on top for the second year running. It's proved harder to defend the title than to win it for the first time as there's the weight of expectation on your shoulders, which makes this result even sweeter. Everyone in the team pulled together to achieve the result this weekend and I have to admit that it's fantastic to be a double British Champion."
"I am so pleased for the team. Since I joined Mitsubishi in the middle of the year there was a massive job to do and I'm delighted that we've done it. The Rally GB is always a tough event but our task was made even more difficult because of the conditions, which makes the achievement even more satisfying."
Paul Brigden - Team Principal
"I am absolutely delighted with the result. It's exactly what we set out to achieve at the start of the year. Although we've had to make some tough decisions during the season I believe that our actions have been vindicated by our performance this weekend. The whole team has worked very hard to make this happen and I have to thank them for such a fantastic effort."