Mitsubishi’s Symbolic Victories in the WRC

The Safari Rally back then was called the “car breaker rally”. Machines needed endurance to compete in the round. Mitsubishi claimed its win in their debut event.

Mitsubishi has been active in the motorsport world since the 1960s. They took early interest in rallying and decided to compete in the 1967 Southern Cross Rally in Australia. Mitsubishi back then was focused on formula racing. They had little knowledge of rallying. Mitsubishi managed to convince Iwao Kimata, a former Nissan rally driver, to help them learn about rally racing step by step. The manufacturer entered their Colt 1000F to the 1967 Southern Cross Rally. They took the already built F3 engine, tuned it into a rally engine and mounted it onto the Colt. The car finished fourth overall in their first ever rally race. In 1968, they challenged the same rally event with a Colt 1100F, which had big changes in the chassis and engine compared to the previous model. They finished third in the overall result. In 1969, they competed with a Colt 1500SS and 11Fss, but an Austin 1800 took the win from them. The champion driver was Andrew Cowan, who later turns out to be very closely related to Mitsubishi and its rally racing history.

In 1971, Mitsubishi entered 5 new Gallant A II GS rally cars in order to win the Southern Cross Rally but resulted with their best being a third and fourth finish overall. Mitsubishi then competed in the race with a Galant 16LGS in 1972. Their drivers were Cowan and Doug Chivas. The new Saturn engine, 4G32 was mounted onto the 16LGS. This engine was the engine later mounted on the new Lancer GSR. They also used a newly developed rally tires made by Yokohama Rubber. Mitsubishi’s biggest competitor in the race was the Nissan 240Z. The race was won by Cowan with a huge lead against his rival. Cowan then changed to a Colt Lancer in 1973, and continuously claimed the victory at the Southern Cross until 1976. In the 1973 Safari Rally (the inaugural year of the WRC) Nissan completed with a one-two finish, and Mitsubishi ranked in fourth. Also, the Galant that Joginder Singh built in Kenya entered the Safari Rally that year, and finished seventh, eleventh, and sixteenth overall.

The new Colt Lancer was introduced in 1973, and by fall of that year, the 1600GSR which was perfect for rally racing was on the market. In the Southern Cross that year, the Colt Lancer all finished in top positions, taking first to fourth place. In fourth was Singh. Although the car was preforming at its best, the Yom Kippur War took place that year. An oil crisis impacted the world. Mitsubishi was determined to compete in the 1974 Safari Rally despite the bad conditions and sent over rally parts to Singh in Kenya. However, due to the war, the shipped parts went missing. Mitsubishi decided to send Kimata to Kenya carrying the needed car parts. The luggage weighed about 280kg, and Kimata took it as carry-on luggage in the plane. He arrived 10 days before the rally start. The 1974 WRC was affected greatly by the oil crisis and started its season in Portugal. The third round was the Safari Rally, many manufacturers joined the competition. Peugeot, Alpine, Lancia, Nissan, Fiat and Porsche all brought in their top drivers and challenged the round. As for Mitsubishi, Kimata stayed to help the team build the machine. He successfully delivered all of the machine parts. However, the machine wasn’t completed on time for the race start. Kimata commented that he assembled whatever there was left of the machine parts. As the rally started, in top was Bjorn Waldegard of Porsche. Singh, who started eight, worked his way up as the race went on. Kimata, who finished assembling the machine, stayed at Singh’s team as Team Manager. Kimata noticed that the Porsche were having trouble with their rear suspension and ordered Singh to push hard and stay close to Waldegard. Singh eventually caught up with Waldegard. Waldegard let Singh pass in order to finish the race. This is how the Mitsubishi Colt Lancer won their first ever race in the WRC at their inaugural challenge. This achievement was highly evaluated in Europe more so than in Japan.

The winner, Joginder Singh was named the “flying sikh.” The machine used the Yokohama rubber tires in the victorious 1976 Safari Rally.

The following year (1975) was the year Mitsubishi entered 5 Colt Lancers and Galants in the Safari Rally. Cowan was one of the drivers who entered the race. On the competitor’s side, Lancia decided to race with Sandro Munari and Waldegard in their Stratos. However, Ove Andersson got the win in a Peugeot 504. Peugeot was nicknamed “African Lion” because they were strong during African events. Mitsubishi finished fourth with Cowan.

In 1976, Mitsubishi competed with Singh, Cowan, Robin Ulyate and Kenjiro Shinozuka as drivers. They were against other factory teams: Lancia, Peugeot, Nissan and Opel. Lancia’s Waldegard and Shekhar Mehta in a Nissan 160J (Violet) were thought to be the two winning candidates. The Safari Rally turned out to be a wet condition with rain. Mehta lead the group but was involved in an accident at a road section and was forced to retire from the race. The Mitsubishi teams ranked from first to third in the order of Singh, Ulyate and Cowan. Shinozuka also placed sixth on his first challenge at the Safari Rally. Shinozuka ranked tenth in the 1977 Safari Rally as well as placing sixth in Quebec and was nicknamed “the lightning Kenjiro.”

For Shinozuka the 1974 Southern Cross was his first race outside of Japan. He placed sixth in the 1976 Safari Rally, and fourth in the 1977 Southern Cross. He won the 91-92 Cote d’Ivoire.

Shinozuka had succeeded with his challenge overseas. He decided to go on to the Dakar Rally due to Mitsubishi’s withdrawal from rally racing.

In 1977, Cowan and Singh grabbed a one-two finish at Cote d’Ivoire, which was not one of the WRC rounds. However, Mitsubishi ends their factory team participation in the WRC this year.

Lancer EX was introduced in 1979. Lancer EX Rally Turbo was announced at the 1979 Tokyo Motor Show, the fans looked forward to the team’s revival in rally racing. The Lancer 2000 Turbo returned to racing in 1981 as a test. Their debut was in Acropolis, but all three cars ended up not finishing the race. In the 1000 Lakes Rally they finished tenth to twelfth place. In RAC, they placed ninth. The WRC had changed to a 4WD Turbo machine era like the Audi Quattro. In 1982, the tuned machine placed third in the 1000 Lakes Rally. However, Mitsubishi stopped racing with the Lancer 2000 Turbo. In 1983, they founded Ralliart Europe with Cowan as the President. They introduced the Group B Stallion 4WD Rally at the Tokyo Motor Show. However, the WRC cancelled Group B, so the team’s development plans also got cancelled. Mitsubishi’s rally racing was continued by Turbo 4WD Galant WR-4. The Lancer’s return was only in 1993 at the Monte Carlo Rally. It took 10 years for the Lancer Evolution to come back to racing.

Mitsubishi came back into rallying the previous year but was unable to finish with a good result. Improvements were made and in the 1982 1000 Lakes Rally, they placed third after the Audi Quattro.

Results of Mitsubishi Colt Lancer

Year Event Driver Co-driver
1974 Safari Rally J.Singh D.Doig
1976 Safari Rally J.Singh D.Doig

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