Mitsubishi Motors motor sports subsidiary, MMSP, unveils the car that will spearhead its 2004 FIA World Rally Championship campaign, the Mitsubishi Lancer WRC04. A completely fresh design, the new car forms an integral part of a meticulously conceived long-term plan to build on MMSPís distinguished record in the World Rally Championship. It will compete on all 16 rounds of the series.
The Lancer WRC04ís appearance reflects the increasing importance of aerodynamics in World Championship rallying. MMSP spent almost three weeks testing in the Lola racing teamís wind tunnel, re-designing the bonnet, along with the front and rear wings, as well as the rear aerofoil. The first priority was to gain more down force, but close attention was also paid to airflow through the engine bay to maximize cooling. It is a perfect illustration of the strenuous yet conflicting demands that the World Rally Championship imposes. Down force is a vital element of a competitive car on high-speed rallies, but good cooling is a key requirement on a turbocharged rally car, as the ambient temperature on rallies can exceed 30 degrees Celsius and it is often highest on the rallies held at the lowest average speeds. Airflow beneath the car was also considered.
The transmission also reflects MMSPís new strategy and has nothing in common with the four-wheel-drive systems used on previous Lancers. The 2004 car will use a transversely mounted five-speed gearbox supplied by Ricardo. The gear change will be manual and all three differentials will be passive, an epicyclical center differential splitting torque front to rear. The front and rear differentials will also operate on mechanical principles.
"With the current regulations in the World Rally Championship, because the engines have quite small restrictors, the power curve and the torque are so good that it makes it possible to use a five-speed gearbox. Why have six gears when you can have five? We will analyze different possibilities as we develop the car and will introduce new features as necessary", Fornaris explained.
The decision to use passive differentials is unusual, but reflects MMSPís determination to ensure that the chassis is fundamentally sound and effective before introducing refinements. A semi-automatic gear change is likely to be developed during 2004, once MMSP is satisfied that the Lancer WRC04 is living up to its potential, in terms of both performance and durability. Active differentials are also under consideration, but are not an immediate priority.
Brembo will supply brakes and once again, MMSP is placing the accent on simplicity. The braking system will not incorporate water cooling initially.