The Group A Mitsubishi Evos of the 1990s were never totally at home on sealed surface rallies, not when compared to rival offerings from Subaru and Toyota. While drivers of the calibre of Tommi Mäkinen were able to drive around the Evo's sealed surface weaknesses by dint of their immense natural talent (most notably on the Monte), many could not, and much of the blame falls upon the its somewhat basic suspension, and crucially, active differentials.
Ralliart was unique in '90s World Rallying in pursuing an electro-magnetic differential arrangement as opposed to the hydraulic systems favoured by its rivals, and while there was no doubting that this setup had potential, it was also fiendishly complex. It took Ralliart, one of the most technologically gifted of all rally outfits, half a decade to fully master it, and it was only in the twilight of the Group A Evo's career that it finally came together on 'tar.'
The event in question was the 1999 Sanremo Rally, the penultimate season for the Group A VI and, though it couldn't be known at the time, the last drivers' title for Mäkinen. There had been good tarmac results prior to this of course, but these tended to owe more to the skills of the man doing the driving than the car's outright capability.
Ralliart had worked feverishly over the preceding weeks to homologate its first active rear differential in readiness for the Italian round, an alteration which of course had to be met with its own, costly homologation requirement. However the upsides to the new 'diff were myriad, not least enhanced stability under braking and reduced weight, certainly when compared to conventional hydraulic systems.
1999 was the final year when the Evo could be said to be among the very best cars in the World Rally Championship, Mäkinen's innate talent enough to gloss over many of the fundamentally old school machine's downsides. Sanremo came at a pivotal moment in the career of both car and driver therefore, with the Finn stung by a painful retirements from Finland and China, non-scores which had served to destabilize his hitherto unstoppable march the title.
It must therefore have come as relief to both driver and team when the new 'diff worked and worked well, effectively transforming the Evo VI into a potent tarmac weapon and far more predictable beast than its 'snappy' predecessors. Mäkinen, brimming with renewed confidence on a surface he was never quite as comfortable on as gravel, was able to take the fight to the very best that France had to offer, vanquishing both Gilles Panizzi and Didier Auriol in a straight fight, the former in one of the finest tarmac WRC cars of the time, the 206. Freddy Loix brought his own Evo home in 4th to cap-off an impressive performance from the red and white machines.
It was to prove a pivotal win for a number of reasons, not least as bolstered Mäkinen's chances heading into the final 2 events of the year. It was also a comprehensive demonstration of the VI's newfound tarmac potential, something which allowed the old stager to continue to fight at the front for much of the following season. Jamie