ProRally: Sno*Drift: Team Mitsubishi preview

Team Mitsubishi Motor Sports America braves ice and frigid temperatures in debut of new team, new cars at Michigan's Sno*Drift SCCA ProRally. CYPRESS, Calif., Jan. 22 -- Imagine trying to harness 400-plus horsepower while driving at freeway speeds ...

ProRally: Sno*Drift: Team Mitsubishi preview

Team Mitsubishi Motor Sports America braves ice and frigid temperatures in debut of new team, new cars at Michigan's Sno*Drift SCCA ProRally.

CYPRESS, Calif., Jan. 22 -- Imagine trying to harness 400-plus horsepower while driving at freeway speeds over narrow, ice-and-snow covered logging roads. A daunting thought for us mere mortals who ply the winter roads, but all in a days work for the SCCA ProRally drivers of Team Mitsubishi Motor Sports America who will be doing just that this weekend in Michigan.

While local temperatures dip well below normal for this time of year on the northern tip of Michigan's Lower Peninsula, Mitsubishi's rally cars will be burning up the competition at the two-day SCCA Sno*Drift ProRally out of Atlanta.

Team Mitsubishi Motor Sports America is pulling out all the stops this season in the quest for the SCCA Driver and Manufacturer national championships by entering two Open Class division Lancer Evolutions.

Sno*Drift is the first round in a series of nine SCCA ProRally events across the country and the only one that pits drivers, co-drivers, cars and crews against the brutal elements of nature over snow-and-ice covered roads -- and Mitsubishi Motors North America is entering the fray this season with a brand new factory team and a pair of equally new, state-of-the-art, work's-backed all-wheel-drive Lancer Evolutions.

The Evolutions, which are producing "in excess of 400 horsepower," are some of the quickest cars in the world, and are built around the production version of the all-wheel-drive 2003 Lancer Evolution sport sedans that will arrive at dealers across the country in February.

Racing to win is part of the Mitsubishi spirit.

"The Lancer Evolution represents the essence of the Mitsubishi brand and, in its street legal form, has the highest thrill-for-dollar ratio on the planet," says Pierre Gagnon, MMNA chairman and chief executive officer.

"With the Lancer Evolution's incredible performance and uncompromising pedigree as a champion racer on the World Rally circuit, it was natural for Mitsubishi to choose the SCCA ProRally Championship to showcase our company's passion for competition and engineering excellence to North American enthusiasts."

Behind the wheel of the red-and-silver #1 Lancer Evolution is Englishman David Higgins, one of the top rally drivers in the world and the defending 2002 SCCA ProRally Driver's Champion. Higgins won last-season's Championship as a privateer, overcoming the factory team's drivers who had to their advantage more advanced and higher-powered rally cars. This year the advantages are all his under the Mitsubishi colors.

At his side in the co-driver's seat is 22-year-old Daniel Barritt, one of the youngest co-drivers in the SCCA ProRally Championship. During the past five years Barritt, also an Englishman, has worked his way up the ranks in national rallies in the UK and began to co-drive for David Higgins in April 2002. The duo won two victories in 2002, placing Barritt 2nd in the Overall Co-driver's championship.

Close on the bumper of the Higgins/Barritt Evolution will be the all-American team of O'Sullivan and Williams. San Francisco-native Lauchlin O'Sullivan, driver of Team Mitsubishi Motor Sports America's second Open Class entry (car #6), is the reigning 2002 Group 2 SCCA ProRally Champion.

Last season O'Sullivan drove Team Mitsubishi's 2-wheel-drive Lancer OZ Rally Edition entry to four class wins and a total of seven podium finishes garnering the Group 2 SCCA ProRally Championship in convincing fashion.

This season O'Sullivan will pilot an Open Class Lancer Evolution for the entire 2003 season. This is not his first time behind the powerful all-wheel-drive Lancer Evolution; last year he drove a Mitsubishi-backed Lancer Evolution 6.5 at the famous Pikes Peak International Hill Climb and finished an impressive 3rd overall in the SCCA Open Class division. The new 2003 Lancer Evolution, powered by a potent HKS race-prepared turbocharged Mitsubishi 2.0-liter, is an even faster, more refined competition rally car.

His co-driver this season is Dr. Mark Williams, one of the most sought after co-drivers in North America. The wisdom attained from 136 rally starts, 89 finishes and 31 wins at WRC and National-championship events enables Mark to establish the right pace, assist in the car setup, and make the right decisions to achieve winning results.

Williams, from North Potomac, Maryland, has known Lauchlin O'Sullivan for nearly 20 years -- since their early days together in the California Rally Series where Lauchlin began co-driving for his father at the age of 14.

"I first co-drove with Lauchlin at Rim of the World in 1991 where he displayed raw talent in need of taming," says Williams. "He has since harnessed that talent and developed admirably. I'm thrilled at the opportunity to help him attain that next plateau of performance."

To prepare for Sno*Drift's cold and snowy conditions the Mitsubishi team visited Maine in sub-zero temperatures for a day of testing on a fast and flowing snow covered road. The team drivers spent the day logging their first miles in the new cars and setting up their Evolution's suspension and braking systems as well as testing snow tires. The Evolution's powerful HKS-tuned engines also received some final adjustments to maximize their performance.

Team Director Lance Smith was satisfied with the outcome of the test. "The conditions we encountered on this test are nearly identical to what we will find in at Sno*Drift next weekend, so it's a perfect way to set up the cars and it gives the drivers a chance to learn how these new cars handle in the snow."

"Within ten minutes of driving I knew that the new Lancer Evolution was exceptionally special. It has great handling, tremendous power, and it inspires total confidence," said Higgins after the test session. "It's pure magic."

Mitsubishi Motors North America, Inc. (MMNA) is responsible for all of the North American operations of Mitsubishi Motors Corporation. As a single company consolidated on January 1, 2003, MMNA and its subsidiaries manufacture, distribute, finance, and market Mitsubishi brand coupes, convertibles, sedans and sport utility vehicles through a network of nearly 700 dealers in the United States.

Mitsubishi Motors sold its first vehicle in the U.S. in 1981 and began building cars here in 1988 at its manufacturing facility in Normal, IL.


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