Guy Wilks has revealed that it was a 'no-brainer' to sign up to compete on this weekend's BTA Rally Talsi in Latvia with new-for-2009 outfit MML Sports – and in the Mitsubishi Lancer EvoX that he will be driving, the 2005 Junior World Rally Championship runner-up and 2007 and 2008 British Rally Champion believes he has a genuine chance of gunning for glory.
The car underwent a successful UK shakedown and engine-mapping test in preparation for its competition debut in the Baltic country, with Wilks – behind the wheel of the Group N machine for the first time – professing himself optimistic about its potential. Initial test and set-up work had previously been conducted by MML Sports and its test driver, and the County Durham ace is upbeat about his prospects.
“I understand that generally, the EvoX is considered to be a step forward from the EvoIX I've been used to,” affirmed the 28-year-old, who will as usual be co-driven by Phil Pugh. “The rear of the car is apparently more stable, and the engine characteristics are quite different. My first impression of the MML Sport EvoX was good; the car felt well put-together. However, it's impossible to gauge just how competitive it is likely to be, since the testing was more about familiarisation, systems checking and mapping work on the engine.
“Once we start the event, we'll see for sure how good it is, but I think what's important is that the MML Sports team has a huge amount of experience – so the decision to drive the MML Sports EvoX in Latvia was a bit of a no-brainer. For me, if I don't think that the car can win, I won't bother driving it. The only way for me is forward, and I need to know that everything is right – and that's definitely the case with MML Sports.”
The decision to debut the car on Rally Talsi was taken primarily because of the level of competition on the event, with Finnish champion Juha Salo, Latvian champion Aivis Egle, Lithuanian champion Vytautas Svedas and Estonian champion Ott Tanak all on the entry sheet to make it a true 'Rally of Champions'.
What's more, Latvia has one of the longest and richest histories in rallying which made it, according to MML Sports managing director John Easton, the obvious choice to put the Lancer's potential to the test. MML Sports was founded out of what used to be Ralliart Europe – the operation that for many years ran the works Mitsubishi effort in the FIA World Rally Championship, being responsible for delivering four successive drivers' crowns for Tommi Mäkinen from 1996 to 1999 and one manufacturers' title to the Japanese marque in 1998.
“We chose Latvia because we feel it will be the best proving ground for our EvoX,” Easton acknowledged. “Rallying is incredibly competitive over there, and there are a lot of top-specification Group N cars competing. In addition, on this event there will be some exceptional drivers, including locals, Finns and champions, so there will be genuine competition for Guy. We're expecting something in the region of 40 top-class Group N cars, including EvoIXs and EvoXs, so we will have a genuine understanding of how competitive our car is.
“We chose Guy to drive the car as he is clearly a quick driver – double British Champion and, when you look at his time in the Production Car World Rally Championship, he was quicker than any of the drivers out there. He's also very sensible and has lots of EvoIX experience, which means he will be able to give excellent feedback to the team. I think both the team and Guy realise that this weekend won't be a walk in the park; he'll have to drive well and as a team we'll use all of our experience to get the best result possible.”
In addition to its own EvoX, MML Sports will also be running a pair of Mitsubishi Lancer WRC05 World Rally Cars this weekend. One will be driven by Ivars Vasaraudzis and Peteris Spredzis, and the other by Raimonds Kisiels and Gatis Panavs. The former pairing have triumphed on the event outright for the last two years, and are firm favourites to make it a hat-trick in securing this year's overall honours too.
The 29th edition of the Talsi Rally marks the transition from the winter part of the Latvian championship to the summer season, since the outings preceding Talsi are run on snow and ice. Spectator interest in rallying in Latvia is generally incredibly high, but Talsi regularly tops the scales with 40,000 fans expected to attend the 100km event.
The rally begins with a double-run super-special around the streets of Talsi town on Saturday afternoon, showcasing the drivers for the fans before the remainder of the stages on Sunday. However, with a relatively short total distance, the sting in the tail will be the final stage, which comprises almost 33 per cent of the total competitive running at 33.4km.