In our previous post about WRC driver Bryan Bouffier and his experienced co-driver Xavier Panseri coming to the Oregon Trail Rally, I must admit I wasn’t sure if the car would really be ready to challenge at the top yet. Those concerns vanished when I witnessed first hand the awesomeness of a world class rally driver in capable machinery from the right seat during the Press Stage at Portland International Raceway.
As the team began to setup I saw the car roll out from the back of the big Green APU truck. Interestingly they store it on some funky rollers on the hubs, likely to reduce the height of the car to fit in the top half of the trailer. The little green machine didn’t look any different from last year, but Art Gruszka assured me that a lot of work has been done since last year where this car first debuted. It certainly still looks the business.
I asked Bouffier if he had any previous testing in the car, and he said they did 3 days of testing before coming out west for the Oregon Trail Rally. He also said the cars handling felt really good and the power was quite good as well. Handling is of course the most important as speed through corners is what typically gains or loses the most time in rally racing. To hear such an experienced driver who has worked with M-Sport, Hyundai, Peugeot and who knows what other big manufacturer teams be impressed with Art’s little green machine and its handling and power means a lot. Also 3 days of consistent testing bodes well for reliability, provided they put in at least as many stage miles as found in a typical Rally America event.
Bouffier and Panseri did a couple of runs of the Press Stage themselves in the Mitsubishi RS to get a feel for the car and a good read for the 2 mile stage before taking any passengers. The short route took place along the service road around the Portland International Raceway and consists of a combination of broken tarmac and gravel. Once that was complete I was one of the lucky few given the opportunity to sit alongside the French ace. We had the briefest of introductions before a donned a much too large for my head helmet and strapped into the co-drivers seat of the little green monster. As we transited to the start to the start I told him I was friends with WRC Live Radio presenter Colin Clark. Although Bryan laughed and said Colin is a funny man and very excited all the time, looking back, I’m wondering if it was a wise choice to drop the name as the next moments in the passenger seat were violent to say the least!
The start official counted us down and the launch was like nothing I had experienced outside of a GRC car on tarmac. Sure this was gravel, but the acceleration felt like being launched from an aircraft carrier steam catapult! As we flew down the first long straight towards a 90 degree right turn on gravel, Bouffier slammed through the sequential gears and it felt like there was no loss in acceleration as we kept going faster and the corner getting closer. Where others would have let off the throttle and started braking, Bouffier was still foot on the accelerator! Then in what appeared to me as way too late for braking, the car dove nose down and Bouffier hammered down through the gears. The force on my body was so strong it was all I could do to keep my head still against the seat back. As my eyes and teeth felt like they were going to be pulled from my face, Bryan pitched the car left to begin the ultimate Scandinavian Flick. That’s right, no handbrake turn for this guy! Still under braking Bouffier transitions from his left turn into a sharp turn to the right. The little Mitsubishi RS just barely started to change direction when I feel like I’m being thrust back in the seat again. The acceleration placed all the force on the left rear corner of the car and before I know it we are flying straight and true to the next turn. The most perfect, and fastest Scandinavian Flick I’ve ever experienced.
The next turn I was a little bit more ready for and as it contained a little bit more loose gravel, Bouffier didn’t brake nearly as hard for it. Being a turn to the left I could really feel my side of the car lean deep into the turn and then raise back up under acceleration. It became apparent that Bouffier liked a soft setup, and the amount of suspension travel on this vehicle must be down right obscene! We passed what I thought was entirely too close to large embankment on the left with the drivers side tires that surely were partially climbing up it, and then a sweeping right turn where he obviously followed WRC rules where corner cutting allows 2 tires to be off the racing surface. And the crests? That again was like being going up in an aircraft. I’m not sure if we took flight or not because the suspension was so impressive that it felt surprisingly smooth. The forces on my body were strong, but it didn’t feel bumpy or rough by any means.
By the time we hit the halfway point the shock and awe of the ride had subsided enough that I felt I was able to let out a few screams of joy, even giving a thumbs up to a blurry photographer as we passed. And then like a flash we went through the flying finish boards and he was hard on the brakes again and started the transit back to the pits.
In most cases drivers tend to drive the press stage at say 80%, conserving their cars and making the experience enjoyable for passengers. If this was 80% for Bouffier then 100% must be down right horrific!
Even with my limited experience riding in rally cars, the performance of the Mitsubishi RS with Bryan Bouffier behind the wheel is something that should very much worry Subaru Rally Team USA. If the reliability is there then they should be able to fight at the top all weekend. Yes my friends, the Mitsubishi vs. Subaru battle is back and with a vengeance!
The Oregon Trail Rally will be a must see for any rally fan. Be sure to follow all the action for this weekend’s Oregon Trail Rally. Check out the event’s Twitter and Facebook pages. Rally America will have their own updates on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram feeds. Hashtags for the event will be #OTR, #RallyAmerica, and #RA3. Also Jim Beaver will have interviews in the service park with all the top drivers on Rally America Radio.
For updates directly from teams and drivers, don’t forget to follow the North American Rally Updates Facebook page. That group is also a fantastic source of information between rallies.
If you’re planning on attending in person, don’t forget to download the spectator guide for a complete schedule and list of viewing locations.
Thank you so much to Bryan Bouffier and the Green APU Team for giving me the opportunity of a lifetime to ride with such a top caliber driver. I’ll not soon forget the experience!