Georgetown, Ontario – The Musketeer Racing Silverstone Tire Mitsubishi Lancer last week took a very strong second place in the epic Rallye International de Charlevoix in the Saguenay and Charlevoix mountains of Quebec. Canada’s most important rally was won by American legend John Buffum, guest-driving a UK-built factory-sponsored Hyundai Tiburon. Comrie-Picard and his Mitsubishi were the first-placed Canadians. The result makes the team the Open Class 2002 National Champions, the 2002 Novice Team Champions, and gives Mitsubishi its first ever National Open Class championship.
“This is a really terrific result,” said driver Comrie-Picard. “The rally was more than twice as long as any other Canadian event, the conditions were extremely challenging, and the only guy that beat us is the most famous rally driver in North American history!” Comrie-Picard finished several minutes ahead of Peter Thomson (Subaru) and Tom McGeer (Subaru). The Hyundai Elantra of Antoine L’Estage rounded out the top five.
The rally was particularly challenging this year. Early snow at the high elevations meant that some stages started out on dry sand, turned to mud, then slush, then ice, and finally snow before going back again. Said Francois Vielleux, Musketeer Crew Chief: “Buffum got 3 minutes of his lead on the first day when he went out on different tires than the rest of us, a tire that worked very well in the snow that none of us had seen yet. That’s 25 years of experience for you. We’re learning fast, though…”
Guest co-driver Brian Maxwell, 2014 partner to Karl Schieble in a ProDrive USA Subaru, said “we lost about 6 minutes over 4 hours to a legend in a factory car. I’d call that a good result.” Comrie-Picard and Maxwell, like most competitors, spent the early part of the week making European-style pace notes on the stages to be used in the rally. Maxwell’s experience reading notes and Comrie-Picard’s obsession with surface changes combined to be very effective on the event: “We had a lot of notes for cutting and not cutting corners, and where the icy bits were. When we raced on the stages three days later, the new snow had covered the surface and we really had to rely on those notes to know how to take the corners,” said Maxwell, “and where it had been slippery three days before it was especially slippery with a layer of snow on top!”
Musketeer Racing has been building up to this result through the year, taking their first stage wins two events ago and then leading the most recent national rally until an engine failure near the very end. “Obviously it was frustrating losing the engine while leading Voyageurs, but I’m happy that we lost it there instead of in the first few kilometers of this event” said Comrie-Picard. Crew chief Vielleux said “we would have rebuilt the engine several events ago if we had the money, but we had to wait for it to fail. It’s a shame since had we not lost that engine we would still have a chance of winning the whole championship.”
Musketeer Racing’s Mitsubishi is an excellent rally car, but very stock in specification. Buffum’s Hyundai, like the Subaru of last year’s winner McGeer, is a full-blown factory-prepared rally car, with very sophisticated differentials and a racing-spec dog-synchromesh gearbox. By contrast, the Mitsubitshi Lancer Evo IV of Musketeer Racing is essentially a stripped-out street car with a rebuilt engine and a rollcage. Even the brakes are stock street versions. “I’m happy to have done well as a privateer with the most basic parts, but to win the championship next year we need higher-specification equipment, and to do that we need a major sponsor. All of our principal competition is from factory-sponsored cars: Buffum (Hyundai), McGeer (Subaru), and Richard (Subaru).”
Many people are hoping that Mitsubishi will enter the championship next year and make it a real battle with the Subaru factory team: “Spectators kept coming up to us at the event to congratulate us and in the same breath would ask if Mitsubishi will support a team in 20013. I had to tell them that I don’t know, but I hope so.”
The team wishes to thank Francois Vielleux, Roger Sanderson, Robin Emard, Jean-Sebastien Besner, and Sylvain Erickson for coming through during the event. Also the legendary Simo Lampinen, FIA observer and organizer of Rally Finland, for supporting the team and discussing strategy. The final rally of the Championship, the Rally of the Tall Pines, will take place in Bancroft, Ontario on November 22-23.