At present, there is no homologation for plug-in hybrids within the FIA’s cross-country rule book, so in Portugal the Mitsubishi runs at the invitation of the organisers in the National rally supporting the International event.
Baja Portalegre follows some
tricky gravel paths through forests and farmland. A short prologue
stage is followed by three tests of 50, 93 and 124 miles.
Masuoka, navigated by Pascal Maimon, sets top-three stage times on the short opening prologue and second stage to lie third overall in the National classification after day one. Then, early next morning, the car grinds to a halt.
“It is linked to a blown fuse in the 12-volt power system,” team manager Tanaka explains as car and crestfallen crew are towed back to service.
Retirement looks likely, but after an impromptu team meeting and a quick chat with the rally organisers, the team leap into action. A road-going Outlander PHEV owned by the domestic importer is driven under the team awning and the engineers rummage in the boot to remove the fuse and its holder from that car and then fix it into the rally car.
“Don’t worry, I’ve got a lift back to Lisbon,” says the boss of Mitsubishi Portugal, grinning, as his no-longer-functioning road car is winched onto a flatbed truck.It takes about 20 minutes to fit the part and breathe new life into the rally PHEV. The resulting time penalties mean that Masuoka plummets to the back of the overall standings, but he does get to tackle the 120-mile final stage.
The Outlander is back on the pace, too. In atrocious conditions, the crew set the second-best time and put more development miles on the car.
Masuoka has a shopping list of things he’d like to develop, among them a different damper set-up and improved water cooling for the rear motor, which was operating close to the top of its range in Portugal. Then there’s some weight reduction (“We could add a carbonfibre roof,” he says) and changes to the transmission to improve the way the power is delivered.
Masuoka hopes to enter four events next season, starting with a snow event in Russia in February. “The snow rally will be a very good test, especially because we will be running on spiked tyres and in temperatures of minus 23deg C,” he says. After that will come Italy and Spain before a return to Portugal at the end of the year.
Masuoka’s big dream is an assault on the daddy of them all, the Dakar Rally, to prove the capabilities of
this plug-in hybrid in the most gruelling conditions.