End of a rally era

Mo­tor­sport vet­eran Neal Bates runs the fi­nal show­down be­tween his longterm ri­vals from Mit­subishi and Subaru

Herald Sun - Motoring - - COVER STORY - PETER BARN­WELL peter.barn­well@news.com.au

ONE of the great­est ri­val­ries in the car in­dus­try is com­ing to an end.

Af­ter more than two decades bat­tling the Subaru WRX STI through the forests and on the show­room floor, Mit­subishi’s leg­endary Lancer Evo­lu­tion is be­ing re­tired.

The rally car, af­fec­tion­ately called the Evo, is be­ing farewelled with a lim­ited run of 150, known as the Fi­nal Edi­tion.

So we thought it fit­ting to send the Evo out with one more crack at the Rex.

It’s hard to find an im­par­tial judge for such a bat­tle, so we a man who has spent most of his ca­reer com­pet­ing against both.

Four-time Aus­tralian rally cham­pion Neal Bates has bat­tled the Evo and Rex for more than two decades, first in a Toy­ota Cel­ica then a Corolla.

Im­mensely skilled on the gravel, Bates was par­tic­u­larly renowned for prow­ess on the tar­mac, so we took the trio to Sydney Mo­tor­sport Park for a fi­nal show­down. Both cars were stock-stan­dard, not set up for track driv­ing, and we used the tighter southern cir­cuit.

The Evo has the slight­est ad­van­tage on pa­per with out­puts of 226kW/414Nm to the Subaru’s 221kW/407Nm. The lat­ter coun­ters with a slight weight ad­van­tage, tip­ping the scales at 1537kg ver­sus the Evo’s 1565kg for the Evo.

Fresh from the cir­cuit, Bates shares his thoughts:

EVO

I pre­fer the look of the Evo, even though it’s about 10 years old. On the track it has plenty of go higher up in the rev range and the five-speed man­ual is bet­ter suited to track driv­ing be­cause you make fewer gear changes, which saves sec­onds.

The en­gine has a bit of turbo lag but you can drive around it.

When you’re cor­ner­ing hard it starts out un­der­steer­ing a bit (push­ing the nose out) but you can get the tail out as you round the cor­ner. It’s pretty easy to drive.

The brakes are good, to a point. The gearshift is quick, the chas­sis feels pretty taut and the sus­pen­sion is OK — a bit more ad­justa­bil­ity would be bet­ter.

STI

It’s not pretty to look at but Subaru has never been good on style.The STI feels bet­ter all-sought round. It feels more like a race­car and the chas­sis feels stiffer.

It feels like it has more grip every­where and there’s less lag from the turbo, with more us­able power down low. At higher en­gine revs, the power doesn’t feel as good as the Evo.

The STI has a smooth, short- throw six-speed gear­box but at this track the gear­ing isn’t ideal and you lose time go­ing up and down through the ra­tios.

The STI feels like a newer car and there’s more ad­just­ment avail­able for the drive and the dy­nam­ics. It has neu­tral han­dling and good drive out of the cor­ners.

AGAINST THE CLOCK

Armed with a stop­watch, we time Bates in each car over about five laps and nei­ther is demon­stra­bly quicker than the other. He reck­ons the WRX feels quicker by the seat of the pants but the ex­tra gear changes cost it time.

From pit lane, each looks quick in Bates’s ex­pe­ri­enced hands, sit­ting flat and not flinch­ing un­der full power or hard brak­ing. Both sound quiet with slightly more rum­ble from the STi’s quad-tip ex­hausts.

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