Japanese marques are synonymous with rallying. In the 1990s, they ruled the World. For a time, the World Rally Championship was dominated by Subaru, Toyota and Mitsubishi, but, despite glory on the stages, cars from the same brands never achieved the same success at the highest levels in rallycross.
Mitsubishis and Subarus, two names most commonly associated with rallying, have achieved glory in national level rallycross in recent decades, but now a new Swedish-built Welsh-run Mitsubishi Mirage Supercar is part of a long-term plan to take the name to the top of the sport.
Former rally driver James Grint has formed a partnership with Swedish firm Mpart AB (responsible for the producing of the Mitsubishi R5) and Welsh rally team Spencer Sport to build and develop a new Mirage RX for 2017.
Based on the R5 platform, the new car has been adapted specifically for rallycross at Mpart’s based in Orebro, Sweden. That process includes the rotation of the engine and transmission through 90 degrees, which are now orientated longitudinally in the chassis. “Mounting the engine longitudinally was a major task in this bodyshell, made more difficult by the type of gearbox that we’ve chosen. The gearbox sits in the middle of the car, and as the car is actually very narrow, you would certainly struggle to get a passenger seat in there,” says Spencer Sport owner, Charlie Jukes.
The Mirage’s transversely mounted five-speed sequential transmission from Swedish firm Unic is similar to that previously used by double World Rallycross champion Petter Solberg in his Citroen DS3. There is much debate in rallycross about which engine and transmission orientation is most beneficial. A transverse layout provides gives more weight over the front axle for traction, while a longitudinally mounted unit potentially offers a more even weight distribution.
Unic’s transmission takes things a little further, instead of having a shallow bell housing to locate the transmission behind the engine but in front of the driver, an aluminium torque tube of around 600mm moves the gearbox further back in the chassis. Between the torque tube and engine block, the clutch housing (which is home to a triple-plate rallycross-specification Alcon clutch) is also home to the starter motor, meaning a further four kilograms are moved 200mm towards the centre of the car. The five-speed gearbox has two options of ratios, and five variables of drop gears. On the new Mirage, the limited slip differentials (with a hydraulic system to adjust preload), driveshafts and CVs are courtesy of Unic too. “This is a car built to World RX specification, so we can move up and progress when we are ready,” says Spencer, referring to the squad’s 2017 plans to develop the car in the British Championship.
Grint has only previously competed in Supercars with transversely mounted engines, but thinks the benefits with the Mirage’s setup are significant.“There’s a bit of a debate about which best, but we believe that longitudinal is more favourable,” says Grint. “You have a better weight distribution, which for sure helps with the launches too. The car will be well balanced and the transmission is cutting-edge.”
Attached to the transmission is a Julian Godfrey Engineering-built two-litre, turbocharged, 16 valve engine, which with the regulation 45mm restrictor produces in the region of 600 horsepower and _650lb/ft torque, running Pectel MQ12 management – homologated with the FIA to be used in World RX events. Spencer won’t be drawn on specifics of the engine, but says Multiple-European Champion engine supplier Godfrey was chosen for his experience. “For us, it’s sensible to go with a known quantity in suppliers. Julian’s got a very good reputation and we’re really pleased to be working with him.”
As with most Supercars, the cooling package in the left-hand drive Mirage has been relocated to the rear, for safety from contact and to allow for as large an aluminium intercooler as possible to be housed in the front. “The intercooler is only really constrained by the size of the space in the front of the car,” says Spencer, who explains that the Mirage’s bodywork, which features a recently introduced facelift to the R5 rally car, has also been adapted to suit the cooling package. “There is very little difference in the bodywork to the rally car, apart from the larger rear spoiler and that we’ve changed it from a four-door to two-door. The rear doors have been replaced by composite panels and the ducts for the rear cooling are mounted in there.”
Located in the original home of the rear seats in the standard car, the radiator and fans sit close the composite boot, with vents to expel unwanted warm air. “The chassis has almost no overhang, the wheels are very much at the corners of the car,” explains Grint. “It’s a really neat package, and that includes how the radiator is mounted.” Underneath the car sits the 20 litre ATL fuel tank.
The suspension geometry of the Supercar remains close to that of its R5 brother, using a McPherson strut and lower A-arm design at each corner, attached to bespoke tubular sub frames. Swedish firm Ohlins has been involved with Mpart’s R5 concept since it was conceived in 2013, but the firm also has solid knowledge of rallycross, working with World RX outfits such as World Champions EKS, OlsbergsMSE and Team Peugeot-Hansen. For the Mirage, Ohlins provides multi-way adjustable remote-reservoir dampers. “The geometry is very similar to the rally car, there are some small changes, like the position of the (rack and pinion) steering rack, but not huge amounts.”
Attached to the suspension, housed inside 17” Speedline Corse wheels are Alcon’s bespoke rallycross brakes (featured in RT189 ), including 355mm vented discs front, 315 rear and lightweight four-pot callipers. Although built to a much less restricted set of regulations than the R5 version of the Mirage, experience gained from running the rally version since 2013 has influenced the Supercar build and Spencer believes the concept is tough enough to survive the rough and tumble of rallycross racing. “We know what we have in suspension and steering is very strong, so we’re fairly confident that it’s going to be okay for rallycross, but only time will tell really,” he says.
There’s a lot to learn for the new team with its new car, but the amalgamation of rallying knowledge and well proven components will stand the it in good stead. As Grint explains, this project is about taking a Mitsubishi back to the big-time. “I think we’ve got a very strong package, from the engine to transmission, braking and suspension. This is a lot of the latest technology available”’ he says. “The end goal is to have a competitive car in the European championship and beyond. This is a development year. The ideal plan is to run more cars in the future and have a two-car assault on the European Championship and to be racing in World RX events too.”