My first year back after a four-year sabbatical was 2017. That year was spent learning how to drive the Mitsubishi Evo 9 Group N again – seat time was key. The early events were spent chasing our Group N competitors who were roughly one or two seconds a mile faster than us in what are, essentially, identical cars.
The following year, 2018, brought a step-change in our results. I had a new co-driver in Gareth Parry – this was a big change for him as he had never been in a 4WD car – but we gelled almost instantly.
Over the ’18 season I gained confidence in the car and by the last event we were starting to push its limits. Our results culminated in us winning the Pirelli Welsh Group N Championship which was amazing.
Shortly after, Chris Timmins from C1-R Motorsport approached me and explained there were gains to be made with the set-up and components that we had on the car. Chris has a wealth of Mitsubishi and rally engineering knowledge having worked for both Ralliart UK and latterly for M-Sport Ford World Rally Team.
Chris laid out a clear development plan for us in 2019. So, with Professional MotorSport World Expo’s backing, we put that plan into motion in December 2018. Having the time to make the changes was key and we decided to make the step up to the BTRDA Rally Championship for 2019, still running in Group N.
As the Group N class regulations prevent the development and fitment of performance enhancing modifications, finding small gains in areas of the car that are unrestricted would be key.
The car had previously run on Hankook tires through 2018. This was largely down to budget and Chris was able to suggest that the best gain would be to move to a different tire manufacturer. Pirelli were preferred, mainly due to their ongoing development program and current involvement in the WRC but also because of the support they offer on the BTRDA Championship events in the UK.
The rubber compounds that Pirelli offer in the UK have a very wide operating temperature window, ensuring a more consistent feeling in the car from the very start. This is essentially how much grip the tires give inside and outside the window of optimal performance temperature. The Hankook tire would give good grip but the optimal temperature window was small. Once you took the tires above their optimal, this heat cycle seemed to reduce the level of grip even when the tires returned to their optimal temperature.
In comparison, the Pirelli compounds offer a smoother progression across a much wider temperature window. The main benefit being that even if I push the tires slightly harder above their optimal temperature, the grip levels are sustained even when they cool down. This means I can push harder in the stage, while being able to manage the temperatures without losing the grip.
One of the biggest ways to improve the handling and speed at which you can drive a car is through the set-up of the suspension geometry. Group N regulations prevent the development of performance parts with regards to bush material, suspension arm design and mounting points or subframes. All these components have to stay OE. You can however run any geometry settings – camber, toe, caster – providing they can be achieved using the standard parts.
Three-way adjustable dampers are permitted in Group N. These allow the team to change the low-speed bump, high-speed bump and rebound settings before or during an event.
Over the 145km of pre-season testing and throughout the season, the geometry and damper settings are tweaked for a varying range of surfaces. High-speed, smooth and flowing roads need a drastically different set up to bumpier, twisty and more technical roads.
The Group N Mitsubishi Evo 9 has to use homologated brake components to stay within the regulations. One area we have a vast choice is in brake pad material. Endless were the chosen manufacturer due to their development program and involvement with the M-Sport FWRT.
We’ve moved to their newest N39S compound which brings a distinct improvement in cold brake performance, longevity and consistent braking performance when hot. The Initial bite in cold performance is very important when you need to push the car to the limit in the first 3km of a rally stage. When stages can be as short as 6km, you can lose a lot of time over half the stage mileage due to bad cold braking performance.
Equally, brake fade, glazing and knock off is a big problem in longer more technical stages. The Endless pads improve all these situations and the consistency they offer grants the confidence to push the limits right from the start.
The Mitsubishi Evo 9 has an electronically controlled active center differential, controlled by a hydraulic pump. The ECU takes data from each of the four road wheels, road speed and throttle actuation. The map in the ECU factors all these parameters when controlling the actuation of the hydraulic pump and splits the torque to the front or rear wheels appropriately.
Group N regulations do not allow you to modify any part or location of the center diff system, other than the manufacturer of the ECU and the program that controls the hydraulic pump. The test allowed us to map in the ECU to control the diff for optimized performance in low grip conditions.
All these development steps have come together to make a very noticeable difference in our performance for 2019. The car is now much closer to its optimal set-up, although we know there are always areas to improve it further. That could be through a reduction in maintenance intervals for components or through finding new technologies in areas of the car that we are allowed to modify.
Our results so far this year reflect the changes we’ve been able to make. We have taken the Group N win on the last three events in a row and last time out on the Plains Rally we achieved our first overall podium finish.
We are also leading Group N of the BTRDA Production Cup Championship, the Pirelli Welsh Gravel Championship. However, the most impressive result for me is that we are second overall in the BTRDA Goldstar Championship.
The Goldstar includes specially developed and more expensive WRC and R5 vehicles. To be second overall at this stage in the year is fantastic and it is testimony to how well we are performing as a whole team in 2019.