New Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV Will Race Baja Portalegre 500 Challenge
The specialized race version of the vehicle was specifically developed for the event, and will be piloted by Mitsubishi factory driver Hiroshi Masuoka, who is best known for winning back-to-back victories in the legendary Dakar rally raid in 2002 and 2003. He’s only the fourth driver in Dakar history to win in consecutive years. He also took victory in the 2003 Baja Italy and 2004 UAE Desert Challenge.
In addition to driving duties, Masuoka will also play the part of team captain. Supporting him will be a glut of Mitsubishi personnel, including team manager and technical director Yasuo Tanaka. Tanaka is also an engineering expert from the EV Component Research Department at Mitsubishi. Alongside him will be four engineers from the department.
Organized by the Portuguese Automobile Association, the Baja Portalegre 500 will see its 29th running this year, and will pit competitors against one another in 500 km (311 miles) of dirt, gravel, and punishingly harsh conditions. The event is part of the ninth round of the FIA Cross Country Rally World Cup, and over 300 vehicles are expected to take part, including cars, motorcycles, and quads. The Portalegre 500 is also known as a warm-up for the infamous Dakar rally, which is slated to kick off this coming January.
The Baja Portalegre 500 will take place in the Portalegre province of eastern Portugal between October 22nd and 24th. Entrants will see non-stop action over the entirety of the 500 km, halting only for brief 20-minute service intervals.
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Why it matters
The Outlander PHEV racing SUV was developed specifically for the Baja Portalegre 500 to help promote Mitsu’s electric and 4WD technology. It utilizes the production model’s battery, while modifications were performed to its structure and drive system for greater performance and reliability.
Included is the requisite roll cage and safety harnesses, while the suspension has been raised with a longer stroke and larger diameter rally tires. Mitsubishi says data gathered during the event will be fed back into the development of its production vehicles, particularly in terms of the 4WD and plug-in hybrid system. I’m thinking a performance hybrid SUV from the automaker is not too far off in the future.
Electrification is becoming a mainstay in street vehicles, but in order to advance the technology, there has to be certain goals to create the necessary development pressure.
In addition to efforts in Portugal, Mitsubishi will also support the Two & Four Motor Sports team as it runs a similarly prepped Outlander PHEV in the FIA Asia Cross Country Rally this year, just as it did in 2013 and 2014. This time around, Mitsubishi will provide support in the form of vehicle construction, vehicle provision, and a team of engineers.
The Asia Cross Country Rally will take place August 8th through the 14th, celebrating it’s 20th running this year. Compared to the Portuguese event, the Asian rally raid is quite a bit more grueling, starting in the city of Chiang Mai in northern Thailand and encompassing some 2,500 km (1,553 miles) of mountainous terrain.
Suffice it to say, the use of electric vehicles in rally racing is a pretty big deal. Electrification is becoming a mainstay in street vehicles, but in order to advance the technology, there has to be certain goals to create the necessary development pressure. If one of those goals is to make it to the finish line first, then you can bet the tech will see a good deal of improvement.
In some ways, electrification is great fit for a rally raid. The extra mileage will help eke the most from available fuel, while the extra insta-torque from the throttle will help to power out of adverse road conditions.
However, the systems are quite heavy, and more weight on a race car is never a good thing. What’s more, the complicated drive system that a hybrid uses can make in-the-field repairs an absolute nightmare.
However, these are things that will need to be overcome if the team is to reap the rewards of a hybrid rally car, and it looks like Mitsu is ready to take on the challenge. It’s somewhat reminiscent of hybrid technology’s entry into the world of Le Mans and endurance racing.
What’s more, it’s great to see Mitsubishi throwing some of its attention to this badass motorsport. After all, we all remember the Evo. While an Outlander might be a far cry from the old AWD turbo Lancers that jumped their way through the WRC, it’s at least a step in the right direction.
One question, though – where you gonna plug in?
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