This weekend saw what MML Sports has described as a stunning competition debut for its R4 specification Mitsubishi Lancer EvolutionX.
Former Finnish rally champion Jari Ketomaa was challenging for the overall win on Rally Talsi, the third round of the Latvian Rally Championship, before he hit a rock, causing an instant puncture and demoting him from second to ninth overall.
Following a two-day test prior to the start of the event, both MML Sports and Ketomaa were optimistic ahead of the event. And the rally world didn’t have to wait long to see how competitive the car was; Ketomaa took the outright stage win on the first timed test of the event, ahead of the World Rally Cars of Georg Gross, in a 2008 Ford Focus WRC and Skandi Motors team-mate Raimonds Kisiels, in a Mitsubishi Lancer WRC.
From that moment on, the performance of the MML Sports R4 Lancer was clear; by the end of the first four stages and the first leg, Ketomaa lead the event outright.
On Sunday morning, he carried on where he left off, never out of the top three when to came to stage times and claiming another pair of scratch wins, on the sixth and eighth stages of the event. In fact, by the time he approached the last stage of the event, he was in second place, less than seven seconds off Gross’ lead, the pair having swapped positions for first and second no less than five times so far.
However, fate was to intervene and prevent a dream performance translating into a dream result. In the last stage, Ketomaa struck a rock which had been pulled out into the centre of the road and this caused an instant puncture. He and co-driver Mika Stenberg elected to drive out of the stage but at reduced speed, losing almost three and a half minutes in the process and dropping to ninth overall.
Commenting at the finish, MML Sports Managing Director John Easton, said; “It seems like luck wasn’t on our side today. Jari was definitely on for second place, potentially the win but the rock in the road put pay to that. Coincidentally, the usual Group N winner also hit the same rock and suffered the same fate, so at least Jari was in good company!
“Even though we didn’t get the result we felt we should have, I am extremely encouraged by the pace the car has shown. To be here after just a short pre-event test and be fighting with a pair of world rally cars on our R4 Lancer EvoX debut is very gratifying. We were treating this event as effectively a test - we have carried out very little development running post-homologation - so to claim three scratch times is fantastic.
“We hoped the R4 car would have potential but this weekend, it’s been a lot quicker than we had anticipated and we still have a lot of options to test, so I am confident that we could get even more speed from it. The R4 specification is already between 0.5sec and 0.75 secs per Kilometre faster than our Group N version, over the same stages.
“I think our next event could either be here in Latvia or possibly, south Estonia, again with Jari. Ott Tanak will be doing Estonia in the Fiesta S2000, so hopefully we could get a better idea of the car’s pace, against a top driver in a top car.
“I guess everyone is disappointed that we didn’t get a podium result this weekend but the pace and reliability of the car have been superb. On balance, I’d say this is an excellent debut.”