The Rally Talsi in Latvia witnessed two days of varying degrees of success for MML Sports, the company born out of the defunct Mitsubishi Ralliart Europe operation, with an outright win for Ivars Vasaraudzis and Peteris Spredzis in their Mitsubishi Lancer WRC05 World Rally Car and the collation of a considerable amount of knowledge of its Mitsubishi Lancer EvoX Group N machine in the hands of reigning British Rally Champion Guy Wilks.
Having prevailed on the Baltic event twice before, locals Vasaraudzis and Spredzis were firm favourites to make it a hat-trick of victories and they didn't disappoint. The pair were fastest on every stage and dominated the leaderboard, to claim a convincing triumph by almost one-and-a-half minutes by the end of the nine stages. Team-mates Raimonds Kisiels and Gatis Panavs similarly put in a solid performance over the weekend and were looking at a podium position until the final stage, when a spin cost them time and dropped them down to fifth.
However, most eyes were on the MML Sports Group N Mitsubishi Lancer EvoX, making its competition debut in Latvia because of the incredibly high level of competition in the country. A pre-weekend test had resulted in major advances in the car's suspension settings and hinted at genuine potential for the main event.
The first day went reasonably well, with Wilks and co-driver Phil Pugh settling into the car and getting accustomed to rallying in Latvia. A brace of top three stage times on the first day put the pair sixth in class, just 13 seconds behind the category leader, despite a ten-second penalty for a jumped start on the fourth stage.
However, Sunday would not be so straightforward. Their car began the day with an engine problem that severely restricted the power output. Despite constant attention throughout the day by the MML Sports technicians and attending HKS specialists, it wasn't until the final service of the rally that the problem was diagnosed and partially rectified. This left just a single stage to run – and consequently little chance to recover any of the time lost.
However, even with the engine issue not completely cured, Wilks and Pugh were encouragingly just one second per kilometre slower than the eventual category winner and recorded a finish of tenth overall and seventh in class.
“We were going alright on Saturday,” remarked the County Durham ace afterwards, “but not as well as we wanted to. Then we had problems on Sunday. Of course I'm disappointed, but you have to remember that this was the first event for the car and there is clearly more to come with more testing. There were some issues that we weren't able to rectify on the event, and we just had to deal with them as best we could.
“Having said that, I would have been more disappointed if that had been our pace and there were no problems. We have a much clearer idea of what the issues with the car are, how to address them and what direction to take to improve the car even further.”
“Sunday was obviously a frustrating day for us,” concurred MML sports managing director John Easton. “The engine problem left the car with a severe power disadvantage, and we weren't able to trace it and begin correcting it until the final service.