Team Mitsubishi Evolution VII gains first points at SCCA ProRally Millen finishes in top five CYPRESS, Calif., June 4 -- At the end of 125 miles of sometimes wickedly fast Pennsylvania forest roads that make up the Susquehannock Trail ProRally...
Team Mitsubishi Evolution VII gains first points at SCCA ProRally
Millen finishes in top five
CYPRESS, Calif., June 4 -- At the end of 125 miles of sometimes wickedly fast Pennsylvania forest roads that make up the Susquehannock Trail ProRally in north-central Pennsylvania, Team Mitsubishi stretched out its lead toward securing the coveted SCCA ProRally Group 2 title with a win and the new Lancer Evolution VII stayed in the hunt for the manufacturer's championship with a 5th overall and 5th in the Open Class.
Running over what SCCA officials called "near-perfect" rally road conditions, team owner and Open Class driver Rhys Millen outlasted development gremlins to bring the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VII to its first official SCCA ProRally finish and a point's-paying position in the manufacturer's cup race.
The all-wheel-drive, 375-horsepower, DOHC turbocharged rally car, which is the forerunner of the same model to be sold here in the States in early 2003, was facing its first full test at STPR. Millen's unexpected troubles came when an engine control module brought engine overheating and a drop in horsepower at the drop of the flag on the first stage, forcing him to drive at two-third's throttle for the entire race.
"When I tried to go for a bit of power, then temperature gauge would climb like mad. So I just cruised along," said Millen. "Gary (navigator Gary Cowan) and I might as well have been on a Sunday drive."
Despite the lack of power, Millen's driving ability and a fantastic team effort resulted in the Team Mitsubishi/Rhys Millen Racing car steadily rising from being out of contention late in the day to a fifth overall and 5th in class.
Meanwhile, teammate Lauchlin O'Sullivan and his navigator Matt Chester continued their David-verses-Goliath battle in the forests all day and into the night in their Rhys Millen Racing-prepped, 135-horsepower, front-wheel- drive Lancer O.Z. Rally Edition to capture the Group 2 win. Just as impressive, they brought their red RMR Lancer from 41st in a field of 90 cars to 14th overall.
But it was far from a runaway win like last month's victory at the Rim of the World ProRally in California.
O'Sullivan, up against a quintet of top East Coast drivers in much higher- horsepower Acuras, Hondas, Mazdas and VWs, laid down the gauntlet at the drop of the flag on the very first stage -- a short, six-mile route that begins the STPR event with the finish line in the middle of a creek crossing.
The Californian's brilliantly driven first stage set a new stage record for the two-wheel-drive class at STPR and gave him a 15-second cushion to begin the day over his closest competition. But that was slowly eroded away as his rivals closed the gap over the next 30 miles of racing stages.
By late in the afternoon, O'Sullivan's lead had been chopped to less than 10 seconds with James Robinson's Honda Civic a mere seven seconds behind and Matthew Johnson's VW GTI two seconds behind him. Also in the pack nipping at the Mitsubishi Lancer's tires were the Mazda Protege of Eric Burmeister and the Acura of William Bacon.
That's when O'Sullivan put together another brilliant run. He kept the O.Z. 2.0-liter SOHC engine bouncing off the rev limiter as he drove a flawless stage along the STPR's longest section, a 22-mile stretch of forest roads that tests the nettle of every rally team. O'Sullivan was driving the O.Z. Rally Edition so well that he actually passed rival Johnson's powerful VW GTI half- way through the stage on a twisting narrow section.
Such driving skills over the last daylight stage of the race resulted in yet another record-setting STPR stage time in class and opened up a minute- and-a-half lead over Johnson and Robinson.
Three stages later O'Sullivan's East Coast rivals were once again knocking on the door. But as happens in ProRally, attrition has a tendency to change the game. Johnson's GTI dropped out two stages later, while Robinson's Honda Civic encountered problems and started falling back in the pack chasing the red Team Mitsubishi Lancer.
O'Sullivan and Chester continued to run trouble-free stages, finishing first in class and 14th overall with a more than two minute lead ahead of second place Bacon. Burmeister, who is chasing O'Sullivan in both the Group 2 and overall 2wd driver championship points, came through the last checkpoint 13 seconds later to finish third in class.
"The O.Z. Rally Edition is a solid, solid car," said an ecstatic O'Sullivan after the win. "I pushed this car hard for 125 miles and here we are. I was expecting we'd be in the top three, but never dreamed we'd win against this stiff competition."
With O'Sullivan's win and Millen's top five finishes, the Overall Manufacturers Points race has closed since Rim of the World: Hyundai is at 61 points, Subaru at 52, and Mitsubishi with 37. In the Group 2 Manufacturers Points, Mitsubishi has extended its lead considerably, now standing at 80 points with Mazda at 56.
Following the Pike's Peak Int'l Hillclimb (June 27-29) and the Maine Forests Rally (July 26-27), Team Mitsubishi heads to Bemidji, Minnesota, for the Ojibwe Forests Pro Rally (Aug. 16-17), then out west to the Wild West rally in Olympia, Washington, Sept. 7-8. The team's season finale is the Lake Superior rally in Houghton, Michigan, Oct. 18-19.
Mitsubishi Motor Sales of America, Inc., was established in 1982 by Mitsubishi Motors Corporation, Tokyo, and markets a full line of vehicles, including coupes, convertibles, sedans and sport utility vehicles.