Team Mitsubishi USA Lancer Evolution wins Wild West SCCA ProRally with brilliant Millen driving and service crew effort. CYPRESS, Calif., Sept. 9 -- Neither blinding dust, mud-slicked gravel roads, flat tires, nor a broken half-shaft could deny...
Team Mitsubishi USA Lancer Evolution wins Wild West SCCA ProRally with brilliant Millen driving and service crew effort.
CYPRESS, Calif., Sept. 9 -- Neither blinding dust, mud-slicked gravel roads, flat tires, nor a broken half-shaft could deny the Team Mitsubishi USA Lancer Evolution its first overall win of the 2002 season at the end of the SCCA Wild West ProRally in Washington state this past weekend. Nor was it a surprise that Rhys Millen stood at the top of the podium. He was a man on a mission -- drive to win. Nothing less.
And he did.
Millen, with navigator Gary Cowen calling notes from the right seat, drove by far his best race of the year. He took the Mitsubishi Evolution 6.5 and flat out-drove and out-powered the rival Hyundais and Subarus that have seemingly dominated this season's SCCA ProRally championship series.
He won outright three of the grueling 13 stages that comprised 130 miles of narrow gravel logging roads and posted a top-three time in eight other stages. His final margin of victory was nearly four minutes over runner-up Paul Choiniere in the Hyundai Tiburon.
At times on the dusty, narrow gravel logging roads that made up Saturday's stages, the scream of the 400-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter engine and the thick plume of dust marked Millen's approach long before the red Evo came into view. The all-wheel-drive Mitsubishi Evolution looked and sounded like the Tasmanian Devil himself was screaming through the Douglas Fir and alder forests of the Olympic Peninsula.
The Rhys Millen Racing-prepped Lancer Evolution 6.5 -- the forerunner of the ultra-fast Mitsubishi Evolution sports sedan coming to dealers after the first of the year -- benefited from a fresh engine, and meticulous preparation work by the Team Mitsubishi service crew -- before and during the rally.
Midway through the rigorous last stage on Saturday the driver's-side front half-shaft became damaged, leaving Millen with some severe handling challenges over the tight, narrow roads. He did a masterful job of reigning in the car while keeping some speed, but lost a minute of a two-minute cushion to rival Choiniere. The Team Mitsubishi service crew replaced both front axles in less than seven minutes at the service area.
Seeded first for the second day's stages, Millen literally had clear sailing for the rest of the day -- a position he hadn't seen all season. But that first-car-out advantage was short-lived.
A persistent Pacific Northwest drizzle quickly turned the dry, dusty roads into greasy gravel roads. Millen wasn't fazed; he tweaked up his adrenaline level a notch, pushed the throttle a little harder on the straights, braked later into the corners, and let the sophisticated all-wheel-drive system of the Mitsubishi Evolution do the rest.
He used every inch of the road -- and a little extra on a few occasions. His fast-and-furious driving added as much as four-seconds-per-mile over Choiniere during the latter stages, securing a long-awaited victory in the ultra-competitive four-wheel-drive Open Class.
The Wild West Rally wasn't as kind to Lauchlin O'Sullivan and navigator Matt Chester in the two-wheel-drive Team Mitsubishi Lancer O-Z Rally Edition. Their ProRally win last month at Bemidji, Minnesota, locked up the national driver and manufacturer's championship for the two-wheel-drive open class, and they wanted to end the season with two more podium finishes.
They were leading the class going into Sunday, but an electrical fire on the second stage of the day dealt them their first DNF of the season. The sidelining of the Lancer O-Z left O'Sullivan and Chester as cheering spectators when teammates Millen and Cowen roared through the end of the final stage to win overall.
Both Millen and O'Sullivan have one more shot at a class win as Team Mitsubishi heads to the final SCCA ProRally event in Houghton, Michigan (Lake Superior, Oct.18-19.)