Niall Henry is one of a growing handful of competitors who has switched to an R4 specification rally car in recent years. His mount of choice is this stunning Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X which he purchased towards the end of 2015…
The R4 category was introduced by the FIA to allow production category cars to remain competitive. Regulations which govern the category allow a little bit more room for movement compared to the rules that govern the ‘Group N’ cars of the (fairly recent) past.
The main advantage that an R4 car has over its Group N predecessor is its weight – R4 cars can be around 80kg lighter. This is achieved through the use of a thinner windscreen, Perspex windows and lightweight door cards. In addition, various materials which are not needed can be removed from areas such as the boot lid and door frames.
R4 cars are also fitted with a full suspension kit that includes a number of replacement parts. The parts included in the kit provide additional strength and they also provide a substantial weight saving compared to the car’s original components.
The uprated suspension, which in Niall Henry’s car was provided by EXE-TC, provides more scope when it comes to suspension setup. There’s additional suspension travel over and above the standard suspension, and a myriad of suspension settings are possible.
Weight saving and suspension are the two main areas in which R4 cars differs from the older Group N formula. They provide that extra edge that makes the cars more competitive, especially when they have to compete against the lighter S2000 specification machinery.
Originally this R4-spec Evo X was built for Rory Byrne of Modern Tyres. It’s pictured here with its PPG dog box, Mitsubishi’s homologated big brake kit and Perspex windows from MML. Underneath the skin, there are Ralliart differentials, a GEMS management system and it was mapped by well-known mapper, Tommy Field.
The car is 27-year-old Niall’s fourth Mitsubishi rally car, although he started from much humbler beginnings. It was around 2006 that he started rallying with an ex-Cecil Minford rear-wheel-drive Peugeot 205. He cut his teeth on single venue events before switching to his first Mitsubishi – an Evo 5. It was in that car that he entered his first closed road event, the Tour of the Sperrins Rally.
The Evo 5 was to mark the beginning of a succession of Mitsubishis. An Evo 6, which had been built by Mellors Elliot Motorsport for a 2002 Production World Rally Championship campaign, was a nice upgrade from his Evo 5.
“It was a better car all around,” Niall admitted. “There were only two of those cars built. It was used by Karajmit Singh to win the Production World Rally Championship in 2002.”
Niall used that car in Northern Ireland Rally Championship events and then switched to a Subaru Impreza N12 for a couple of years. Mitsubishi fans will be shocked to hear he sold his Evo 8 road car to help him make the ‘jump’ to the Subaru!
He contested the Irish Forestry Championship with the new mount but when the time came to change again, he couldn’t resist heading back to Mitsubishi…
Midway through the 2013 season, he picked up an Evo 9. Top 10 results in Irish Forestry events soon followed and as he gained more experience, those top 10 results soon became top five results.
“We had a lot of good runs in the Evo 9,” Niall admitted. “We were never far away from the top five in the forestry events.”
After a brief fling with a Subaru World Rally Car, Niall opted to go for an R4-spec Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X at the tail end of last year.
“We’ve done about 10 rallies in it so far,” he revealed. “It’s a big improvement. They say the weight of an Evo X is hard to stop but I don’t think that at all. It’s great when turning in and it’s a bit lighter than a Group N car. I think my car is the weight of an ‘average’ Evo 9…Maybe not an ADR car but a middle of the road 9.”
“There’s a big difference in the torque levels compared to my old Evo 9. I think it has around 600lb ft of torque. It’s a good, strong car. Nothing has given any trouble…and I hope after saying that it doesn’t come back to bite me!”
Recently, Niall has contested a couple of BTRDA and BRC events, something that he hopes will help to improve his pace on home ground…
“I hope that doing events in the BTRDA and BRC will help to bring on my pace at home,” he said. “To get close to the boys in the BTRDA would be brilliant and to beat them would be an achievement. I think a top 10 pace on those events is similar to a top 3 pace at home.”
Niall admits that his long term plan is to try to win the Irish Forestry title and when asked about his Northern Ireland Championship plans, he seemed a little bit frustrated by the series…
“I don’t think my car is fast enough to win it,” he said. “It can’t match the World Rally Cars although it’s fast enough to beat everything else. But it’s more affordable and the Evo is a great car.”
“This year, I’d like to finish in the top three in the Irish Forestry Championship but we need a bit of luck on our side. We missed the first round after we had some car trouble the day before at Kirkistown and then we missed the Sperrins.”
Niall forms part of the Macsport Rally team and he credits the McErlean family, who initially formed the team, for instigating his interest in the sport.
“Macsport is family run but it was going long before the Henry boys were on the scene,” he said. “Ian McErlean, Barry McErlean, Oliver McErlean and Dessie McErlean were the first members of the team.”
“My father, Raymond, is now involved and obviously so is my brother, Desi. Plus navigators Liam Moynihan, John Rowan and Damien Duffin have been there for such a long time that they can nearly be classed as our own!”
On paper, Niall’s car is full R4 specification but he plans to make a few changes which would put him into a different class. A 34mm restrictor combined with a sequential gearbox could really see him shake up the rally leaderboards. Watch this space…
Words: Jonathan MacDonald Photos: Graham Curry