Mitsubishi Motors motor sports subsidiary, MMSP, has come up with the Lancer WRC04 to spearhead its 2004 FIA World Rally Championship campaign. A completely fresh design, the new car forms an integral part of a meticulously conceived long-term plan to build on MMSP's distinguished record in the World Rally Championship. It will compete on all 16 rounds of the series. World Rally Car rules demand that the competition car is derived from a family of showroom cars, made in quantities of at least 25,000 per year.
Before the introduction of the current Mitsubishi Lancer, on which the rally-inspired Evolution VII and VIII are based, the previous Evolution models based on the old platform were built just to get FIA homologation in Group A rallying. Evolution models from the first Evo I in 1992 till the last Evo VI in 2001 were the basis for the championship-winning Group A rally car driven at one time by Tommi Makinen. The new Lancer platform debuted in 2001, and along with it came the new rally Lancer Evo. This time, however, it moved up from the Group A class to the WRC class, making its World Rally Championship debut in October 2001 at the San Remo rally. The WRC was prepared by Ralliart and was based on the then-new Lancer Evolution VII road car. Driver Tommi Makkinen hoped to win his fifth World Championship. But things didn't go according to plan, and Mitsubishi's WRC rally efforts lead to much embarrassment. Barely a year later, Mitsubishi came up with a revised WRC2 rally car, still based on the Evolution VII. It too was a failure. Which leads us to the all-new WRC04.
The Lancer WRC04 is still based on the standard Lancer, but as its dramatic appearance indicates, it has little in common with previous Mitsubishi World Rally Cars. It draws on Mitsubishi Motors' worldwide resources, combining Japanese and European capabilities, but it reflects a fresh design strategy and has been created by a new, more youthful engineering team. The 2004 season is an exercise first and foremost in laying the foundations for future success.
The Lancer WRC04's appearance reflects the increasing importance of aerodynamics in World Championship rallying. MMSP spent almost three weeks testing in the Lola racing team's wind tunnel, re-designing the bonnet, along with the front and rear wings, as well as the rear aerofoil. The first priority was to gain more downforce, but close attention was also paid to airflow through the engine bay to maximise cooling. It is a perfect illustration of the strenuous yet conflicting demands that the World Rally Championship imposes. Downforce is a vital element of a competitive car on high-speed rallies, but good cooling is a key requirement on a turbocharged rally car, as the ambient temperature on rallies can exceed 30 degrees Celsius and it is often highest on the rallies held at the lowest average speeds. Airflow beneath the car was also considered.
In designing the chassis, the emphasis has been not just on good handling, but on strength, simplicity and ease of maintenance. The car uses MacPherson strut suspension all round. It is a robust system and to make servicing straightforward, components are often interchangeable not only front and rear, but left to right as well. Most suspension components will be made of steel, to ensure reliability. The Lancer WRC04 will use specially modified Öhlins dampers, like its recent predecessors, building on a fruitful past relationship. The steering rack and crossmembers are also new designs, partly because the engine has been relocated, tilted 20° rearwards to improve weight distribution.
The 16-valve, twin-cam, two-litre engine belongs to the 4G6 family used so successfully in previous Lancers. It employs the well proven cast iron block and an aluminium alloy cylinder head, but it has also benefited from significant alteration. First and foremost, it is based on the version of the engine fitted to the new and highly popular Lancer Evo VIII showroom car, but with a new turbocharger, fitted with the regulation 34-millimetre intake restrictor, new intake and exhaust manifolds, and new internals. This results in 300 hp @ 5500 rpm. Although the bore and stroke remain unchanged, the crankshaft, connecting rods and pistons have been lightened and the electronic management systems are new, endowing the WRC04 with roughly 398 lb-ft @ 3500rpm. MMSP has turned to Magneti Marelli to supply its electronics for the first time, using an advanced engine management package that doesn't rely on fuses or circuit breakers. There are two control units, one for the engine and one for the chassis. As the system is fully integrated, each is capable of controlling all electronic functions throughout the car, plus the system saves weight and enhances reliability.
The transmission also reflects MMSP's new strategy and has nothing in common with the four-wheel-drive systems used on previous Lancers. The 2004 car uses a transversely mounted five-speed gearbox supplied by Ricardo. The gearchange will be manual and all three differentials will be passive, an epicyclic centre differential splitting torque front to rear. The front and rear differentials will also operate on mechanical principles. The decision to use passive differentials is unusual, but reflects Mitsubishi's determination to ensure that the chassis is fundamentally sound and effective before introducing refinements. Brembo will supply brakes and once again - MMSP is placing the accent on simplicity.
Mitsubishi plans to improve on the WRC04, building on the car's performance during the 2004 season.
ModernRacer.com © 2004