Two years ago, if you asked me why I put so much effort into this magazine, I’d tell you it’s because I want the whole world to know about the incredible things the average gearheads of the world are doing. A year ago? I’d say I want to help gearheads build high performance machines & lives. Today? I want to show you how meeting your gearhead brothers and sisters in far away places is the way to build those high performance machines & lives.
Those wanting more car pictures, this is your post. There are so many pictures in this piece, we had to install a special piece of code to keep the site running. Are you ready?
We were halfway around the world, driving a brilliant, brand new Mitsubishi ASX that hadn’t even had its first oil change yet, after touring central London and sailing the Thames River in a 70-year old WWII amphibious vehicle, and being pick-pocketed on the Underground, but none of that really mattered as I pulled into the McDonald’s parking lot next to the big, black Gen III Mitsubishi Shogun (aka: Montero, Pajero).
Today was Tuesday. The day we would meet Darin Frow and Mechell Gilbert, Founder/Chairman and Admin/Manager, respectively, of the Lancer Register (aka: MLR). I’ve been emailing back and forth with Darin for a couple years, now, he’s something of a mentor to me, personally, and I was about to meet him face to face for the first time.
Why is Darin a mentor?
Let’s just say I’ve been tracking down and interviewing gearheads and community leaders for nearly three years now and Darin is the ONLY person I’ve come across whose full-time job is running a privately-held online automotive community. He has paid staff. They organize multiple races and social events every year. He is a dyed-in-the-wool Mitsubishi enthusiast and he loses sleep trying to ensure everything is perfect for his community members.
He’s also the guy who called in favors and pulled strings to get a foreigner (that’s me) a brand new Mitsubishi ASX4 to drive in the UK and arranged a private tour of MML Sports in Rugby for us. He apologized for having us all meet at a McDonald’s of all places, but bought Vanessa and I Egg McMuffins for breakfast all the same while he, Mechell, Cat, and Andy had coffee.
I want to say MML stands for “Mitsubishi Motorsports Latvia”, but I can’t be sure. What I can tell you, however, is MML Sports used to be Ralli//Art, where Mitsubishi’s WRC cars were built and maintained. Ralli//Art may have retired, but the people who built and serviced factory WRC and well-heeled privateer teams worldwide under the official Ralli//Art flag remain in business and this is where they work.
You know I’m a Mitsubishi fanatic. You know I’m a rallyista. It kinda goes without saying Tommi Mäkinen is one of my heros. He was FIA World Rally Driver Champion four years in a row – 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999 – and Mitsubishi took home the manufacturers title in 1998. On this day, I was touring the facilities that made all that possible. Mind = blown.
You wanted pictures? I’ll give you pictures. Prepare to reap the whirlwind, my friend.
I took these pictures for you. If you’ve got an Evo or not, you’re probably about to see some very cool shit. These aren’t the glamour shots you find in the buff books or glossy magazines at the grocery store. These are the pictures I hoped I could go back and learn from later.
If you’re anything like me (and I suspect you are), I figure you’re going to want to save and share some of these with people when you talk about ideas they might give you. I am fine with that. Please do so with my compliments. I ask only that you do us a kindness by linking to this page when and where you do.
We were probably the last group to tour this facility before they relocated.
We walked through a mostly packed up and emptied office area, then through a set of doors to behold this site. As a Mitsubishi rally fan, this was immediate ZOMGZ moment. That’s Gigi Galli’s WRC car, back from Rally Japan for an overhaul. Behind it, two more WRC Lancers.
On either side of each car were shelving units full of random bits and pieces removed from that car. Simple, yet effective idea.
That’s a WRC Evo engine, sequential gearbox, exhaust manifold, downpipe, et al. just tossed in a bin. Believe me. I asked about it. I would have gladly made arrangements to have the whole lot shipped to Arizona on my dime if it were considered garbage. Turns out the owner of a wrecked, ex-works car (you’ll see in a moment) simply sent everything to MML just like this.
The owner of this ex-works Lancer Evo sent it in for repairs after an accident. Check out the simple front sub-frame and those strut turrets!
Close up of the strut turret on the wrecked shell pictured above. Check out the ’04WR’ stampings.
State-side, we might consider this kind of damage a complete write-off, yet this car is getting completely restored by the expert staff at MML Sports. Check out that roll cage geometry!
Clearly, this isn’t a Mitsubishi, but it gives you an idea of the level of work this shop is capable of performing. Some people don’t even think twice about putting fifty-grand into an old plaything like this.
The interior of the Ford was just as clean as the exterior. (And wait ’til you see the engine bay!)
You. Could. Eat. Off. It. Flawless if you ask me.
Yes. That would be a Cosworth head on the Ford. Just look at the attention to detail, though. The gentle arc of the throttle cables, the neat, staggered routing of the lines from the reservoirs on the firewall, it’s just awesome.
For the haters. World class facility. Five-figure build. Fram oil filter.
Worth a thousand words, right? Note carbon air intake routing behind driver side headlight to carbon airbox. Also check out the exhaust manifold (seen un-covered a few pictures up in the bin) which locates the turbocharger off to the side and over the gearbox. You can also make out the power steering cooler on the firewall, right above the intake manifold which pretty much has zero plenum, too.
Sorry for the blurry pic. Low light in the wheel well and the flash was turned off. Notice the air duct on the hub (and the center of the hub itself). Gold anodized arm behind the coilover is the swaybar. 6-bolt flywheel is visible in the background.
I consider this to be weapons grade. Backside of the front right hub on Galli’s WRC04 Lancer Evolution. It’s still splined like a stocker, but it’s a pass-through design, allowing the axles to be popped out of the gearbox and pulled straight through the hub for replacement in service. Brilliant design.
Another view of the hub, ready for the wheel which, as you can see, keeps the axle in place during operation. And check out that prop shaft just lying on the ground. Sexy, huh?
Talk about business class. No fake carbon fiber bits here. I still can’t believe I had my head through the window of this car. It’s probably never raced in the United States, never will race in the United States, and – even if it did – there’s no chance I’d be able to get close enough to it to see it like this. Just look at the bracket the steering column mounts to. (You’ll see it again in a few images.)
The stories this car could tell, ya know?
Another shot of those exotic – yet clearly unloved – bits just dumped into bins for shipment to MML Sports. I suspect just about anything I might grab from such a treasure chest is likely worth more than my daily driver.
In a mostly empty room, where only chairs, a couple file cabinets, and some old school rally posters remained, Malcolm told us about the model used to develop the aero package on the WRC cars in the wind tunnel. The entire thing was made of carbon fiber (including the tires), aluminum, and wood. The wheels turned. The suspension worked. You could remove the hood and see a wooden mockup of the engine and transmission. This was THE tool used to design those fender flares and that wing.
A look under the hood at the WRC Evo wind tunnel model. You can see the wooden engine (I think it was wooden, didn’t actually touch it) was still very much the consumer-grade version. See how the exhaust manifold looks like the one found on a bone-stock 4G63T? Looks like they also tested air flow through the intake behind the headlight and maybe even through the radiator. Thorough!
Back out on the shop floor, we noticed another bin full of unloved Evo bits. Looks like airbags, fog lights, etc..
More shelving. Remember – they’re in the process of moving. The rest of these cars are likely spread out across the facility. Doubt you will find any Harbor Freight bits in these cubbies.
MML Sports’ facilities were just incredible. You think you know what it takes to build a race car. Then you walk into a room like this, where they build the entire wire harness from scratch. See the lights under the table? There are tail lights on the other end. The entire harness is built, connected, and fully tested before being installed in a chassis. Just incredible.
Like I said, you think you know what it takes. I’ve been hearing about Mitsubishi owners installing bigger and bigger throttle bodies for years. Can’t say I’ve ever heard anyone go smaller, but that’s what “the factory” has clearly done. WRC cars are limited to around 300hp, so steps are taken to get the absolute most from every pony.
The WRC cars have run on as high as 15:1CR (nearly double the stock compression ratio), but most run closer to 13:1CR in competition. These are competition engines, though, and get torn down for rebuilds after just about every event.
You can also see how far the pros go to keep weight down. Did you notice how this engine block has been machined down? This is a used engine. There’s still carbon on the piston faces. Pretty cool.
I’m not comfortable posting pictures of the actual portwork on this head, suffice to say I got a peek. You can learn so much from just listening to people who work at this level talk about what they’ve done and why. So much.
Malcolm couldn’t tell us what those crankshafts were made of, but he said it came to them in billet form, was extraordinarily heavy, and ridiculously expensive. I didn’t touch anything, but those cranks looked like gems. All of it looked special.
As a Galant VR4 owner, I couldn’t resist snapping a picture of this toolbox in the engine room. Malcolm told me he actually started out with Ralli//Art working on the Galant VR4 back in the day. How cool is that?
On this workbench, they were testing something related to the clutch assembly. Is that a clutch or throttle pedal on the right? I suspect this has a lot to do with the sequential gearbox being operated via paddles or something.
Nothing extravagant here. Just a couple LSDs, a bunch of synchros, random gearbox odds and ends. Chillin’.
Everything is tested and tuned at this level – including the steering. I’m not sure what they’re testing or how they’re testing it, here, but it’s neat.
A little backstory on the car pictured above. Back in 2009, Francois Duvall had a 15 second overall lead going into the next to last stage of the Condoz Rally in Belgium. MML Sports had been helping him dial in the car all day and he was getting faster and faster. Unfortunately, due to a misread (or misprinted) pacenote, he cut a right hand corner too tightly, the car slide wide to the outside, and he clipped a concrete telephone pole at speed. The left side of the car was smashed in, with the rear corner being ripped right off as a result.
The data recorder showed Duval immediately grabbed first gear and hit the gas anyway. Bad. Ass. Almost three years later, this shell, with all the damaged left side bits cut away, is parked on a jig for reassembly. They’ve even cut out the roll cage in that corner. Incredible how meticulous these guys are.
In the foreground, another massive jig to ensure tight tolerances as shells are cut apart and welded back together. Look how little of the original unitized structure is utilized in the construction of cars at this level. The more complete shell in the background is more easily recognizable as an Evo.
Cage welding is outsourced (at least in this instance). I am pleased to say the welds on the cage in my own Galant look just as good – if not better. In the background, you can see where the shell had been seam welded. Malcolm told us the vendor did this as a kindness, going the extra mile. Unfortunately, all those little welds add weight, so MML Sports was in the process of grinding them all down and removing them. Seriously.
Andy and Cat get a closer look at a WRC roll cage. I take a picture looking forward from between the rear strut turrets.
There’s those 04WR stampings again, and a nice decal reporting the car passed tech at the 2007 running of the Neste Oil Rally Finland.
Here’s a closeup of the LR strut turret on the damaged Duval car. It’s obvious this car was just shredded by that concrete phone pole, but there is still much to learn from the way the roll cage structure ties into the suspension on the Lancer WRC.
Here’s a better look at the bracket used to mount the steering column in the Lancer WRC. The front of the roll cage is pretty beefy, and it looks like there are reinforcements at the places where hoses and cables pass through the firewall. Little details make big differences.
Darin and Andy look over mountains of raw materials, body panels, and more at MML Sports once we stepped out of the shell prep area.
“I see a red door and I want it painted black.” Not. How many of the cars we’ve looked at today had doors on them? Gotta put those doors someplace!
Oh look. A bone stock Evo. How quaint. This car is used to run recce (pre-running rally special stages in advance of the race to make notes on the conditions, etc.)
Have you ever seen so many Evo wheels in one place? They were all grouped according to use, the rack on the far left is labeled “recce” which are likely wheels unsuitable for for competition. A lot of OZ wheels in this facility.
Okay. If you hadn’t already seen this installed on a vehicle, would you think it was a hub – or alien technology? Clearly, this is a used part, but I would try to convince my wife to let me hang it on the wall in our living room. That’s how cool it is.
Tubular WRC Evo suspension bits are totally tubular. Look how beefy those adjustable tie rods are! The red and blue anodized pieces are done so to make it easy to spot which goes on which side of the car in the heat of competition. On the lower shelf are massive, aluminum brake calipers and a spindle with what looks to be a lightweight rock shield.
At this point, I was really just snapping pictures of anything that looked cool. This is definitely a sub-frame aseembly of some sort, but which one? That’s not a WRC-level sway bar, so maybe something Group N?
This is clearly a front sub-frame assembly, with the steering rack and tie rods installed. Beefy.
Engine mounts and what looks like more consumer grade hub gear just sitting on a table.
Up in the mezzanine, guys were moving things around for the move. Pretty sure they were moving an Evo shell (at least part of one). Downstairs, parts were being palletized for relocation. Directly in front of the white square in the center of the picture is a pallet of brake rotors. The brightly-lit room in the back left is the room with all the bare shell work being done (pictures we saw above).
Once again, sorry for the poor picture quality. This room was mainly lit by skylights, it was a cloudy day, and I did not have the flash turned on. These are brake rotors, and I think they’re all slotted – not drilled. They may have been cast like the rotors we install on our daily drivers, but looking into the cooling vanes from the edge, it was clear these are far more precise.
Finally had to turn on the flash. Close up of the recce wheel rack. Lots of factory stock Evo wheels, a set of Speedlines.
Some test rims. Pretty gnarly (but I’d still run ’em).
And, just like that, it was all over. Darin had to stay behind a few minutes to discuss business with Malcolm, but we were all extremely grateful for his taking a couple hours to walk us through the facility and answer all our questions. He could probably right a book about the things he’s seen over the years. I know I’d buy it in a heartbeat.
Back in the heyday of rally, they’d have so many people travelling all over the world at the same time, they’d have mile-long caravans of equipment driving down the road and would be so spread out during the actual event, every night back at the hotel was spent sharing stories of the incredible things seen that day. Yeah. I would buy the book.
MML Sports had a couple cars either competing or in transit elsewhere in the world (South America, for example), but there was still one service truck in the parking lot just in case.
After Darin emerged from the building, likely arranging something clever for the future with MLR or RallyDay, we jumped back in our own Mitsubishis and made our way to a tiny pub back toward Rockingham, where Cat works, where I had the best fish and chips ever. From there, we popped into Rockingham to see where Cat works, meet up with Andy (who was working), and took a look at their Evo II rally car.
The Evo II was down for an engine rebuild, as they suffered a harmonic damper failure at their first event out after a complete rebuild/re-shell. That’s a bad miss!
The day we were at Rockingham, Vauxhall marketing was on-site with 13 brand new Astra VXRs and a handful of older Astras. They had journalists taking hot laps around the road course, apparently for some kind of insider sprint race, then lined 12 of them up on the start/finish line for a photoshoot.
The photographer was shooting from the tower. Have you seen the picture anywhere yet?
We spent a couple hours at Rockingham, looking at the Evo II, watching the spin doctors line up the Astras just right, and cheesed it up on the podium (reminds me, it’s time to update my profile pictures across the web), then decided to head on over to the Castle Sleeper a couple hours early for our dinner reservation.
We expected at least a couple MLR members to show up, but none did. Just as well. We were beat and spent the evening over drinks, dinner, and conversation. It was brilliant. I know that, if we lived there, it probably wouldn’t feel so special, but it was an incredible time.
The sun eventually came out (sometime around 8PM), and shone brightly through the window on our table as we had dinner. As the conversation began to die down, we decided it was time to call it a night. Stepping out into the twilight, we said our goodbyes and agreed to keep in touch, if not find a way to get together in person again in the future, this continent or that.
It was nearly 2300hrs and Darin had a 2.5 hour drive home, plus a stop along the way to drop off Mechell. We had maybe an hour’s drive back to Northampton, Vanessa and I following Cat and Andy in their red Skoda Octavia estate all the way back to the Abbey.
Day 4 was in the books. Now it was time for sleep. We had just one more day in England before departing for Germany.