Mitsubishi unites its stars from past and present and thrills the public

Mitsubishi Motors and Mitsubishi Ralliart celebrated over 30 years of motorsport history when it brought together stars from the past and present in its annual two-day Ralliart Worldwide Meeting and Champions Meeting in Tokyo (17/18 February).


Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution
Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart
T. Makinen / R. Mannisenmaki

On Saturday 17 February, more than 200 people - including some of Mitsubishi’s most renowned competition drivers, and many of the founding members of the Colt Motorsports Society - came together at the Hotel Nikko in Odaiba.

Those in attendance included Australian Doug Stewart, the man who initially evaluated the Colt Fastback for competition on behalf of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and who now heads Ralliart Australia; Joginder Singh from Kenya, Mitsubishi’s first winner of the Safari Rally; Hiroshi Masuoka, the legendary cross-country and Paris-Dakar challenger; four-times World Rally Champion Tommi Makinen from Finland, and his Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart team-mate, Belgian Freddy Loix; Austrian Manfred Stohl, winner of the 2000 Group N World Cup, and Scot, Andrew Cowan, who opened the doors for Mitsubishi’s Paris Dakar challenge and who now holds the post of Chairman of Mitsubishi Ralliart Europe. Representatives from Mitsubishi Ralliart in Malaysia, Australia, Germany, Italy, Spain, Hong Kong and the United Kingdom were also in attendance, underlining the outstanding tradition and achievement of Mitsubishi Ralliart in the world of international motorsport.


12'000 spectators gathered to
watch the show

Yukimichi Kitane, President of Mitsubishi Ralliart, hosted the gathering, greeting people who have shaped a truly successful history of competition.

Reflecting on his own memories, Andrew Cowan said: "It is more than 30 years since Mr. Kitane asked me to drive a Mitsubishi car. It is like a dream to be standing here now, still part of their family. We have won four World Rally Championship titles and we are aiming for our fifth this season".

Mitsubishi’s motorsport history was epitomised when Stewart, Singh, Makinen and Loix took centre stage, shaking hands in mutual appreciation of their achievements. "I would never have imagined being able to talk with the younger generation of drivers and I feel very fortunate to have been invited to come here from Kenya", commented Joginder Singh. "I am very impressed with your incredible performance and would love to see you take the title again this year", he added to Makinen.


Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart
Mitsubishi Carisma GT
Freddy Loix

In response, Mitsubishi’s four-times World Champion said: "I missed the title last year, but we won the famous Monte Carlo Rally this year. We are expecting our new World Rally Car to be ready for the middle of this season and hope to add to another title and bring great pride to Ralliart".

Hiroshi Masuoka, the legendary Japanese driver who stole the world’s heart when he narrowly missed out on victory in this year’s Paris Dakar Rally, was given encouragement by Makinen after such an impressive drive in the world’s greatest endurance rally. "Yes, I will make further effort to make my dream come true", replied an emotional Masuoka.

As the evening drew to a close and Tommi Makinen and Freddy Loix drew the raffle, many of the Colt Motorsport Society members took commemorate photographs of the stars that have shaped the Japanese marque’s motorsport heritage.


Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution
Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart
Tommi Makinen

Sunday 18 February was, by contrast, a motor sport spectacle rarely seen these days. Nearly 12,000 people gathered in Prism Square, Rainbow Town of Tokyo’s rinnkai fukutoshishinn for a sensational demonstration by the rally drivers. Those who camped out overnight to secure prime viewing spots were not disappointed as some of the world’s finest drivers put on a breath-taking display of driving skill. The newly launched Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VII took pride of place in the service park alongside its historical competition counterparts, all of which have won national, regional and world titles.

Andrew Cowan opened the proceedings, welcoming the crowd of thousands, all of whom were intent on seeing the machines in action and the work carried out by the tireless mechanics in the service park. Yukihiro Taguchi, the 1996 All-Japan Class B Rally Champion was first out on the tarmac track thrilling the assembled crowd as he powered the Lancer Evolution round the purpose-built circuit. He then handed over to fellow countryman Katsuhiko Taguchi, 1999 Asia-Pacific Rally Champion, Fumio Nutahara, the overall and Group N Champion of the 2000 Asia-Pacific Rally Championship, Austrian Manfred Stohl, Mitsubishi’s winner of the 2000 FIA World Cup for Drivers of Production Cars, and Freddy Loix, Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart’s World Rally Championship contender.


100 spectators were given the opportunity to ride alongside the stars

As the atmosphere reached fever point, Tommi Makinen, four-times World Rally Champion and winner of the 2001 Monte Carlo Rally, came out onto the track. Despite a heart-stopping moment when the Lancer Evolution stalled, the Finn put on a fantastic display, thrilling the 12,000 strong crowd with a breath-taking display befitting that of a World Champion.

As if this world-class action wasn’t enough, no fewer than 100 of the 12,000 spectators were given the opportunity to ride alongside the stars in their state-of-the-art machinery. Each was as overawed as the next as they embarked on the ride of their life. "I will never forget this experience. The drivers are so professional and the car was fantastic. My friends will never believe I had this opportunity!" said one.

As the day came to a close, Tommi Makinen and Freddy Loix again electrified the crowd with stories from the World Rally Championship during a talk show. Joginder Singh added words of wisdom from his earlier years of competition, providing all-round entertainment during what was undoubtedly a unique motor sport forum.

In the charity auction, everyone got swept up in rally fever, outbidding each other for the steering wheel on Tommi Makinen’s world beating Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution and the racing seat out of Freddy Loix’s Carisma GT. The lucky bidder of the steering wheel, who paid no less than 120,000 yen, had "no intention of taking part in the auction, but bought it on the spur of the moment caught up in all the excitement"!


A member of the public receives an award from Tommi Makinen

In the raffle, sponsors of the Champions Meeting donated prizes, each of which was won and lost with the same degree of excitement or disappointment. And, in the final competition, rally expertise and knowledge was really put to the test. No fewer than 23 members of the public had built replica rally cars, a quite staggering feat when witnessing the detail achieved by all the entrants.

In a vote by the audience, Sachiko Yoshino, who entered a replica of Tommi Makinen’s 1998 Rally Australia Lancer Evolution, won first place and took the stage with the top drivers to receive her award.

In quite an unprecedented gathering, Mitsubishi brought together its stars from the past and present, provided an unrivalled and sensational motorsport display, and gave no fewer than 100 people a once-in-a-lifetime ride in its state-of-the-art machinery. It was a weekend few will forget in a hurry….

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