The 1997 season brought a major change in the rules of the World Championship, with the birth of the World Rally Car concept. It contributed to bringing more manufacturers to the Championship, by allowing them to build specific rally cars with minimal homologation requirements, while homologation of a group A car still required the production of 2.500 cars. New WRC cars were a mixture of prototype and road car, with fewer restrictions for aerodynamic appendices. The rear wing was allowed, as well as bigger but limited cooling air inlets and reshaped wheel arches. The goal of the new WRC category was to ensure equal forces, but Mitsubishi’s decision of maintaining the new car as a group A car proved that the objective was not completely achieved, at least during the first years.
T.Makinen/S.Harjanne, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IV, Rally Catalunya 1997, 1st – picture by Mitsubishi Motors Corporation
Lancer Evo IV
In August 1996 Mitsubishi released the fifth version of the Lancer, which was a completely new car, with two versions, RS and GSR. The team lead by Chief engineer Chiaki Tsujimura developed the Lancer Evo IV, with a new body and a power increase of 10 hp, as well as the brand new Mitsubishi’s AYC (Active Yaw Control) adaptive handling enhancement system. After a very deep aerodynamic study, all aero devices were reviewed and improved, leading to a car with no aerodynamic lift and a stunning drag coefficient (Cd) of only 0.30.
The first main modification was a completely new front bumper, with a higher surface for air inlets and integrated pod lamps (blanketed in the rally car version). It included a spoiler below, in order to reduce the amount of air flowing below the car, thus contributing to lift removal. Both sides of the spoiler showed the shape which was prolonged by side skirts and rear bumper.
On top of the bonnet, on the driver’s side, a NACA duct was installed for the air entering into the engine air filter. NACA ducts are used when drag due to air inlet is intended to be minimized.
T.Makinen/S.Harjanne, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IV, Rally of Sweden 1997, 3rd – picture by Mitsubishi Motors Corporation
Starting from sides of the front bumper, extensions were prolonged into bigger side skirts, and in the rear bumper. The main goal was to prevent air from entering below the car, which had perturbed airflow under the car, reducing the generated downforce.
The other main modification was the 2-piece rear spoiler, which increased in size, occupying almost all boot lid, and with central support. Also, the size of the delta-shaped wicker was increased, starting now almost from the end of the rear window. The car was homologated in early January 1997, so it could take part in the full 97 season (Homologation Form).
The Lancer Evolution IV rally car was thoroughly tested in the south of France and in Lapland (Finland), as well as in Japan while preparing the new season. As a new car, new homologation was required, and that arrived in January 1997 1st, so the car could be aligned since Montecarlo Rally 1997. Also in January 1997, French Bernard Lindauer joined Ralliart Europe Team as Chief Engineer, replacing Mark Amblard. The role of Lindauer would be crucial in the future success of the three diamonds team. He was responsible for the final design and development of every rally car leaving the team’s headquarters in Rugby, UK, while he ensured a good communication with the engineers in Japan, in charge of the Evolution road car, from which the rally car was built.
From the very beginning of the season, the Evo IV proved to be successful. Makinen could have won in Montecarlo, as he started last day leading, but a wrong tire decision and a spin moved him back to third place.
T.Makinen/S.Harjanne, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IV, Rally Montecarlo 1997, 3rd – picture by Mitsubishi Motors Corporation
The new Subaru Impreza WRC seemed to confirm the benefits of the new WRC category, by winning the first three rallies of the season. But soon after, Makinen showed the potential of the Evo IV, with victories in Portugal, Catalonia, Argentina and Finland which almost secured him his second title in a row. Especially important was the victory in a pure asphalt rally such as Catalunya Rally, the first for the Finnish driver and for the Japanese team on this surface, and a confirmation of the effectiveness of the car, until then considered exceptional only on gravel and snowy surfaces.
T.Makinen/S.Harjanne, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IV, 1000 Lakes Rally 1997, 1st – picture by Mitsubishi Motors Corporation
Colin Mcrae put him under high pressure by winning the last three rallies of the season, but the Finn saved the title by one point at finishing sixth in the last rally of the year, the RAC Rally.
T.Makinen/S.Harjanne, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IV, RAC Rally 1997, 6th – picture by Mitsubishi Motors Corporation
Makinen’s teammate Richard Burns reached one podium finishing by being second in the Safari Rally. Because of marketing reasons, Burns’ car was named Carisma GT Evo IV, although there was no difference with Makinen’s car.
R.Burns/R.Reid, Mitsubishi Carisma GT Evo IV, Montecarlo Rally 1998, 5th – picture by Francois Baudin/DPPI
U.Nittel/T.Thorner, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IV, 1998 Montecarlo Rally, 7th – picture by Mitsubishi Motors Corporation
Mitsubishi Ralliart Europe Team also started the 1998 season with the Lancer Evo IV, and Uwe Nittel joined the team for some events. Makinen repeated victory in Sweden, and there would be still time for the last victory, in Kenyan Safari Rally, which was the first victory of a future world champion, Richard Burns.
R.Burns/R.Reid, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IV, Safari Rally 1998, 1st – picture by Mitsubishi Motors Corporation
Lancer Evo V
Just after Tommi Makinen reached his second title, Mitsubishi released the new Lancer Evo V, which was put on sale on January 26th, 1998, in Japan. Rather than a simple upgrade from the previous car, the Evo V constituted a significant evolution of the car, with important modifications on aerodynamics, an increase of torque and wider tracks, which resulted in improved steering and increased stability during cornering on asphalt.
T.Makinen/R.Mannisenmäki, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo V, Tour de Corse 1998, ret. – picture by Petr Fitz
Intensive wind tunnel work resulted in a new front bumper design, with even higher air inlets and upgraded shape design. As there was more air entering into engine bay for cooling, higher airflow needed to be removed, for what size of vents on the aluminum bonnet also increased, while NACA duct for air to filter was maintained at the same location and size.
Side skirts were also modified, with small flared wheel arches covering the increase in track. In the rear of the car, a new wing design was also introduced, with a bigger, delta-shaped wicker, modified side supports and a top blade adjustable to four different angles of attack, allowing to get different compromises between downforce and drag, to match the requirements of each WRC event.
The rear bumper was also modified, to incorporate the same low profile initiated in the front bumper and prolongated by side skirts. All these changes resulted in a car Cd of 0,31, very similar to that of his predecessor. But, according to Ralliart Europe engineers, the changes in the aerodynamics hampered the car, rather than faster, and had been introduced only to differentiate it from the previous version. The car was homologated on April 1st, 1998 (see Homologation Form).
T.Makinen/R.Mannisenmäki, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo V, Rally Catalunya 1998, 3rd – picture by Mitsubishi Motors Corporation
Even though the car was thoroughly tested by Burns and Lasse Lampi in the previous months, it was no until the Catalonia Rally in April 1998 when it appeared in competition. And Makinen finished third to confirm the excellent base of the new car, also in tarmac, followed by Burns, fourth, who was driving the same new car but still under the Carisma GT name.
R.Burns/R.Reid, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo V, Tour de Corse 1998, ret. – pìcture by Petr Fitz
The new car showed youth and reliability problems during the first events, but in the second part of the season, Makinen obtained four victories, the first one in Argentina and later, in a row, in Finland, Sanremo and Australia, and left the title battle open for the last rally, in a close fight with Carlos Sainz (Toyota).
T.Makinen/R.Mannisenmäki, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo V, Neste Rally Finland 1998, 1st – picture by LAT Images
And he lost most of his chances by retiring after an accident in the first leg of the RAC Rally. Fortunately for him, the engine of the Toyota Corolla of the Spaniard failed in the very last stage, and the misfortune of Sainz turned into fortune to Makinen, who discovered he was champion again on his way to the airport. The victory of Richard Burns in the UK ensured the first and only Manufacturer Title for Mitsubishi.
R.Burns/R.Reid, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo V, RAC Rally 1998, 1st – picture by Mitsubishi Motors Corporation
At the end of the season, the Evo V had obtained five victories out of nine outings, that is, an impressive 55.5% success rate, in an era of strong competence, as Subaru, Toyota, Ford and Seat were also involved in the Championship. But a new car was already prepared to maintain the supremacy of Mitsubishi for one more year.
In the meantime, Subaru developed the Subaru Impreza WRC, which allowed the Japanese manufacturer to continue leading in the Manufacturer’s championship, and it would be the base for future Drivers titles. But this is a matter for a new post.