Mitsubishi Manufacturer Profile & Rally History

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Mitsubishi Home Country: Japan Japan

Mitsubishi is the Japanese translation for "3 diamonds". This name was chosen by ship builder Yataro Iwasaki because Mitsubishi is founded from a conglomerate of 3 industrial businesses. Today Mitsubishi seems(!) like one of the biggest industries in the world. We have Mitsubishi Banks and Estate Agents, Mitsubishi Oil, Mitsubishi Electronics, Mitsubishi Motors.... But the consortium split up again for a number of reasons, if financial difficulties of single entities, if Mercedes' ill attempt of buying and returning shares of Mitsubishi Motors, if Mitsubishi Electronics' mobile phones department joining with French Sagem, it's too much too complicated to go further into this. But most interesting and most curious of all: all these companies still carry the Mitsubishi name, yet they are not connected to each other any more in any way!

Mitsubishi Motors Corporation was formed by the original conglomerate with the launch of the PX33 in 1937 (no explanation of the PX33 name was ever given, but the car itself is quite a novelty as it is actually a saloon look-a-like 4x4 car, in a way like a modern SUV but designed for Military/war use). These were the years when most Japanese car manufacturers were founded, as Japan introduced an import embargo to support its own industry. When in return Mitsubishi Motors Corporation hit the international markets, they created themselves one marketing advantage over most other Japanese companies in creating model names that internationally had a meaning with character, mainly Colt, Lancer & the most luxury limousine would be Galant, which as an example in most languages you would link to a gentleman type attitude. However then they spoiled it all for a mess with double names and variation names that could vary on different markets and different generations:
- Colt-Lancer and Colt-Galant were very similar cars, like the Lancer was the lightweight budget and the Galant the upmarket version of the Colt model. However on some markets Colt was even used as a second brand name and later Colt became an independent small hatchback model. I.e. in UK the Lancer EX was still called the Colt Lancer rather than the Mitsubishi Lancer, not to be mistaken for the earlier Mitsubishi Colt-Lancer which was before the UK market launch. And what most Europeans know as the Mitsubishi Colt was then in UK the Colt 1200 or Colt 1400.
- The Lancer during(!) its 1st generation changed name from Colt-Lancer to just Lancer, a late coupé version was called Celeste. In its 3rd generation on some markets Lancer versions were called Tredia (saloon) or Cordia (coupé). Later coupé versions were called Mirage (the former Japanese name for the Colt!) but not available in Europe. In its 6th generation, known as Evo4-6 (another novelty at Mitsubishi, every other manufacturer would start at Evo1 again) the Lancer was called Lancer in Japan but Carisma in Europe. But the next, 7th generation, Evo7-9, it was vice versa, Lancer again in Europe, but Japan dropped Lancer for Cedia. In Evo4-6 Mitsubishi even confused the rally world, when for international marketing Mäkinen would drive a Lancer and his team mates Burns or Loix a Carisma - the cars were perfectly identical and ran under the same homologation, just the badge was different.
- Another confusion example the Galant. Starting live as a variation of the Colt-Lancer, aka Colt-Galant model, in its 3rd & 4th generation it was the Galant Sigma, while now it had a coupé variation called Galant-Lambda, that on some markets was the Sapporo (named after a Japanese Olympics city). However with the next, 5th generation Galant the Sapporo all the sudden turned from a sports coupé to an upmarket luxury saloon, in Australia marketed as the Sigma turn Magna/Vereda.
If you are not confused yet, we have more of this explained in the according model variation sections (read how the Starion got its name, funny!), so to Mitsubishi's rallying history....

What for Toyota is Ove Andersson and for Mazda Achim Warmbold, for Mitsubishi that is Andrew Cowan. Like the other Japanese makes, Mitsubishi needed to be persuaded into rallying. In Mitsubishi’s case it was very much like a company missing a superb opportunity when Joginder Singh and soon after Andrew Cowan had surprising results in old, totally private Lancers. While Joginder Singh even won the 1974 Safari for Mitsubishi, it was Andrew Cowan to build a team base in Europe, but Mitsubishi’s interest seemed to stay low scale for some time. In 1981 Cowan turned a new Lancer into a group 4 rally car and as it was the only rally car of its shape, size and layout with a turbo engine, it should have been competitive. This Lancer 2000 Turbo indeed looked promising on occasions, but still Mitsubishi’s interest can’t have been that superb, the Lancer Turbo appeared unregularly for 1 ½ years and that was it for a while. Well, nearly, as there was in fact a Starion 4x4 turbo group B project, but again lack of support from the manufacturer seemed to slow down development. Although Cowan’s Ralli Art team was working on the car for some time and in fact the car was running as a prototype on some events, it never was homologated before the ban of group B. That group B Starion had a front engine layout, which didn’t help its case.

But in group A at a time when most European manufacturers left the scene because of the new group A car preparation rules, Mitsubishi started to get their act together to the full. Everybody was looking for a car of similar specification to the unbeatable Lancia Delta. Toyota was the first hope with their Celica and Mitsubishi was the very next one to come out with an answer: the Galant VR4 debuted on the RAC 1988. The car had a novelty: 4 wheel steering. Peugeot already experimented with 4 wheel steering on the group B 405 T16, but the Galant VR4 was the first group A car with such feature – and the only, it didn’t work very well. Actually, 4 wheel steering worked very well on the group B Peugeot 405 T16, so it is actually quite surprising that to the day only Mitsubishi had the bravery to try it since. Fact however is that the Galant VR4 in handling seemed very bulky and clumsy, which however may as well have been down to its size. The ill conceived Audi 200 Quattro aside, here seems a comparison between Mitsubishi Galant and Subaru Legacy obvious as both these makes came out with a saloon car bigger than anything in rallying before, a Japanese fashion that was hard to understand already back then. However a distinct difference between the Galant and the Legacy was that Mitsubishi did not have to wait long at all for their first victory. Just how this happened in itself is a story that could hardly have been any more curious and ironic! For 1989, the Galant’s first season, Mitsubishi signed Ari Vatanen as their #1 star driver while the 2nd Galant was only given to one off guest drivers. Throughout the year Ari had so many problems and retirements, it started being pathetic. But at the same time Mikael Ericsson was sacked from Lancia for being too slow, only to then to the embarrassment of Lancia win Finland for Mitsubishi and a few months later Pentti Airikkala returned after a long WRC break to win the RAC for Mitsubishi as well! Incredibly with one single exception these were going to be the only big* wins for the Galant altogether and for Mitsubishi until 1995! (*To have the records straight, there were 3 wins for private Galants in the by then very low key Bandama Rally)

Then the Japanese seemed to review their strategy, while Subaru replaced the Legacy for the Impreza during 1993, Mitsubishi replaced the Galant for the smaller Lancer already at the start of that year. This was the start of a new, long era. Although things started off slowly, through the years the Lancer saw a few model changes, but more importantly, nearly annually Mitsubishi launched improved, new Evos already as the group A base road car. Starting with the Lancer EvoI in 1993, 6 years later we already had the EvoVI. However with another model change that would be commonly known as the EvoVII, but in WRC terms was Mitsubishi’s first WRCar, it all seemed to go down the drain quickly. It has as well to be said that the WRC has seen a few lean years and by now the competition turned really strong in quantity as well as quality. In any way, the Lancer WRC had a big struggle at hand and Mitsubishi decided to take a break.

In all that time Mitsubishi managed to win the manufacturers WRC title only once, 1998. Maybe it is a case of getting priorities wrong or just a matter of taste, but most of the time Mitsubishi was a one man show – which didn’t help the WRC in its lean years. Everything seemed to circle around Tommi Mäkinen and while Mitsubishi only won 1 WRC title, Tommi Mäkinen won 4 in succession. Meanwhile of course Mäkinen has moved on and is no longer identified with Mitsubishi, while at the same time his departure seemed to hurt Mitsubishi really badly as the car and team seemed to be built too much around him. But as so often, there are two sides to the medal. One reason for Mitsubishi’s more recent problems is often thought to be that Mitsubishi made the move from group A to WRCar way too late. This may be true, but it means as well that when everybody else stopped developing rally specials for the road after WRCars were introduced, Mitsubishi still kept developing these cars as if nothing had changed. This now results in Mitsubishi being head above shoulders over the opposition in the group N competition, even to that extent that group N turns boring and is often nick named a Mitsubishi one-makes-series. Since no rally category is as close to the road cars as group N, this certainly works for Mitsubishi’s road credibility and even in the makes 2003 WRC sabbatical, sales of EvoVII road cars still were impressive.

I absolutely admire Mitsubishi’s Evo road car series and wish the sport as a whole would allow for a strong road car relation like this. On the other hand Mitsubishi turned a sad example to prove my sometimes maybe controversial tastes and habits: 1) This is what makes following single cars by registration numbers interesting, as you could see Mäkinen often got the new cars and the number 2 drivers often got worn Mäkinen cars. I even got it personally confirmed from Richard Burns and Freddy Loix that they often got older cars set up to Mäkinen’s liking and Mäkinen did most of the testing, even though he had a very different driving style. 2) Many fans may prefer the drivers championship, but I strongly feel the makes championship should be number 1. So, brilliant, Mäkinen won 4 driver titles, but then he changed to Subaru, won his first start for Subaru and then opened a Subaru preparation business! Now Mäkinen is clearly identified as a Subaru man, so what now with credit for Mitsubishi for those titles? They should have gone for makes titles, nobody can take that away from them. And in this particular case, when Mäkinen left new Mitsubishi drivers were i.e. Francois Delecour, Gilles Panizzi, Harry Rovanperä, proven brilliant drivers, and the new Lancer WRC was surely not slower than the old Lancer gA? Clearly Mitsubishi was so long focused on everything Tommi Mäkinen, that without this driver they were suddenly lost.

COLOURS & TYRES:

Marlboro sponsorship from 1999 to 2002 aside, Mitsubishi was always in their own colours. For that it is unbelievable how often these colours changed, as if Mitsubishi couldn’t make up their mind who exactly they are. The first Ralli Art cars had as well the brand’s first distinct colour scheme. White & orange on the Lancer 2000 Turbo may have looked like a strange combination at first, but it was far from ugly and it certainly was a combination that could have grown into a very distinct brand awareness indeed. But it didn’t last long. Already with Starion prototypes and then with the early Galant it turned into white with red & black, but by 1990 this turned into white, red & blue with a little silver and green. On the first event of the Lancer Evo in 1993 it was white & red with a little silver and black, but already on the very next event the cars were in white, red & green with a little silver. They changed so often, it seems impossible to keep track. Mostly it was a theme of mainly white with some red, but for 2003 their colours were meant to be red with some silver and no white at all.

Tyres seems a little easier as Mitsubishi used Michelin all along with a surprise but hapless change to Pirelli on their last season so far, 2005.

REGISTRATIONS:

A slightly tricky story, since you have to understand that Mitsubishi was about the last Japanese car manufacturer to enter the European market and Ralli Art Europe moved base several times before they had their now legendary Rugby base. It seems impossible to track down single cars of Mistubishi's program before the Lancer 2000 Turbo. With the Lancer 2000 Turbo, Mitsubishi entrusted Andrew Cowan to run a European "Ralli Art" department. When Mitsubishi was new to Europe, Austria was their strongest importer (a company called Denzel), and without own facilities, Ralli Art Europe, although with Cowan in charge, was operating from Mitsubishi Austria's premises. This resulted in the Lancer 2000 Turbos having Steyr reg plates, starting with "St" and followed by a 6-digit serial number. By the time the Galant VR4 arrived, Ralli Art Europe long had their own base in London. Interesting, while “MM” is indeed a London rego, the "MMM" plates probably were a joke just as the team moved to Essex. Indeed only one works Mitsubishi had a normal London reg: "C196 LGP". In 1988 Ralli Art moved to Essex, where it only stayed for 4 years before moving to Rugby. Only following Essex plates were issued for works cars: "E647 JNO", "F280 MHJ", "F224 MPU", "H995 HVW" & "H996 HVW". By the time the team moved to Rugby, private plates were already in heavy use. For Mitsubishi the private 3-letter-blocks had following meanings: "RAE" = "Ralli Art Europe", "MRE" = "Mitsubishi Ralli Art Europe", "TMR" = "Team Marlboro Ralli Art" & "MMR" = "Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralli Art". Since the new UK system from 2001, Rugby based cars are registered in Northampton. Such works Mitsubishi reg plates start with K with the 2nd letter being between "M-Z" - KM-KZ (KA-KL being Luton).

Chassis numbers: Mitsubishi stuck the longest to groupA & groupN, therefore have a strong road car relation and build numbers only come in place with the WRCars. They are just the normal build numbers too. The only reason for adding an explanation is that when the Lancer WRC saw a major re-design (when they went from WRC Step1 & WRC Step2 to WRC04 & WRC05) chassis numbers start at 1 again, even though it is the very same base car.

Mitsubishi Rally Cars

Model Class
Mitsubishi Mitsubishi Galant  Group N
Mitsubishi Mitsubishi Galant  Group A
Mitsubishi Mitsubishi Lancer  Group A
Mitsubishi Mitsubishi Lancer  Group N
Mitsubishi Mitsubishi Lancer  Group A
Mitsubishi Mitsubishi Lancer  Group N
Mitsubishi Mitsubishi Lancer  World Rally Car
Mitsubishi Mitsubishi Lancer (Carisma)  Group A
Mitsubishi Mitsubishi Lancer (Carisma)  Group N
Mitsubishi Mitsubishi Lancer (Carisma)  Group A
Mitsubishi Mitsubishi Lancer (Carisma)  Group N
Mitsubishi Mitsubishi Lancer (Cedia)  Group N
Mitsubishi Mitsubishi Lancer (Colt)  Group 4
Mitsubishi Mitsubishi Lancer (EX)  Group 4
Mitsubishi Mitsubishi Lancer (Fortis)  Class R4
Mitsubishi Mitsubishi Starion  Group A

Rally Honour Roll

Year Class Place Manufacturer Events
2017 IRC Class R5 4th. Mitsubishi (73pts) 8

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2016 IRC Class R5 4th. Mitsubishi (98pts) 10

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2015 IRC Super 2000 / WRC 1.6T 4th. Mitsubishi (117pts) 10

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2014 IRC Super 2000 / WRC 1.6T 4th. Mitsubishi (118pts) 12

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2013 IRC Super 2000 / WRC 1.6T 4th. Mitsubishi (119pts) 12

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2011 IRC Super 2000 / WRC 1.6T 5th. Mitsubishi (104pts) 11

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2010 IRC Super 2000 / WRC 1.6T 4th. Mitsubishi (33pts) 12

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2009 IRC Super 2000 / WRC 1.6T 3rd. Mitsubishi (52pts) 11

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2008 IRC Super 2000 / WRC 1.6T 3rd. Mitsubishi (28pts) 10

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2007 IRC Super 2000 / WRC 1.6T 3rd. Mitsubishi (65pts) 9

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2005 WRC World Rally Car 5th. Mitsubishi (75pts) 16

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2004 WRC World Rally Car 5th. Mitsubishi (17pts) 16

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2002 WRC World Rally Car 6th. Mitsubishi (9pts) 14

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2001 WRC World Rally Car 3rd. Mitsubishi (69pts) 14

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2000 WRC World Rally Car 4th. Mitsubishi (43pts) 14

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1999 WRC World Rally Car 3rd. Mitsubishi (83pts) 14

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1998 WRC World Rally Car 1st. Mitsubishi (91pts) 13

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1997 WRC World Rally Car 3rd. Mitsubishi (86pts) 14

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1996 WRC Group A 2nd. Mitsubishi (322pts) 9

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1995 WRC Group A 2nd. Mitsubishi (307pts) 8

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1994 WRC Group A 4th. Mitsubishi (80pts) 10

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1993 WRC Group A 5th. Mitsubishi (86pts) 13

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1992 WRC Group A 5th. Mitsubishi (44pts) 14

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1991 WRC Group A 3rd. Mitsubishi (62pts) 14

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1990 WRC Group A 3rd. Mitsubishi (56pts) 13

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1989 WRC Group A 4th. Mitsubishi (58pts) 13

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1988 WRC Group A 13th. Mitsubishi (7pts) 13

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1983 WRC Open 13th. Mitsubishi (7pts) 12

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1982 WRC Open 8th. Mitsubishi (28pts) 12

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1978 WRC Open 13th. Mitsubishi (16pts) 11

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1977 WRC Open 9th. Mitsubishi (28pts) 11

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1976 WRC Open 10th. Mitsubishi (20pts) 10

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1975 WRC Open 11th. Mitsubishi (22pts) 10

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1974 WRC Open 10th. Mitsubishi (20pts) 8

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1973 WRC Open 16th. Mitsubishi (4pts) 13

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