Project Nine is one of the more humble builds within the SH Garage, so much so that quite often its full capabilities are forgotten as it chugs along reliably through its mundane daily duties.
That is, until a good enough excuse comes along to break away from the sensible side of motoring that shatters the chains of the daily grind.
Good for the car, good for the driver.
And today’s excuse for blowing out excess cobwebs? This little experiment is all about quantifying the worth a new set of sway bars, links and a steering correction kit provided by Whiteline have made to my Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX.
In this update I’ll be looking at the final two rounds of the 2018/2019 Whiteline Tarmac Rallysprint series held at Sydney Dragway, the first of which I competed in with my Evo running its completely standard (and very aged) suspension.
In the second event, I competed with my Whiteline-enhanced Evo.
I chronicled the Whiteline upgrade in my most recent Project Nine update, so you should definitely take a look at that post if you’re interested in knowing the finer details of the parts list and the install process.
I introduced the Whiteline Tarmac Rallysprint series in my last project post when I rode shotgun and played navigator in a mate’s Subaru WRX. The experience was so very different from circuit racing, and this first taste had me completely hooked.
I needed to come back for more, but this time I’d be behind the steering wheel of my own car.
From my pool of unwilling mates, it was poor old Christian who drew the co-driving short straw. I’m not sure if he’d concur, but this was good news from my perspective as Christian had spent plenty of time driving at speed. In fact, he took both nights off preparing his GC8 Subaru WRX for 2019’s WTAC Clubsprint class to tag along with me.
With the safety inspections and driving briefing out of the way, it was time to run a couple of sighting laps.
The Evo performed adequately for a daily driven street car. It wasn’t the fastest, nor the firmest or flattest through corners.
I was by told my friends who’d come to cheer me on (or to laugh at me if we binned the Evo) that in a couple of the fastest tight corners the car was up on three wheels, which would explain the soft doughy feeling at times.
Also, having so little weight over the inside front tyre would only be adding to the boat-like soft turn in and understeer.
Initially, I imagined that the short run times and much lower speeds than circuit racing would translate into a much more forgiving experience for the Evolution IX.
Perhaps it wasn’t as gruelling as a full day at the circuit, but damn it felt like our humble little project car was working overtime as we raced from sunset into the night.
Notice the spotlights on some of the other vehicles? As the night grew darker, my attitude quickly changed from ‘extra lights might be useful,’ to ‘f**k, we really need a set of those lights.’
Aiming at, then blasting relentlessly between small gaps in barriers that are almost invisible until it’s too late for drastic correction was a somewhat intense experience.
The same tight barricades are not the place for brake failure either. My original OEM setup had failed previously under less stress, so I’m almost certain the upgraded DBA 4000-series two-piece rotors and pads saved the front end towards the end of the stage as I came in a little hot – literally with the rotors aglow – while slipping through a narrow concrete fence.
But all in all, the car held it together and survived.
We placed around 40th out of 70 entries – not amazing, but certainly not bad for a photographer in a daily driven car who’s racing is usually restricted to making the pre-school drop off on time.
Still, there’s plenty of room for improvement, for both car and driver.
The whole point of this experiment was really trying to quantify the actual benefits delivered (if any) by the new Whiteline suspension components through a solid back-to-back comparison in the same environment and under the same stresses. So how did we do?
Same car plus mods? Check. Same location? Check. Same conditions? Well, not quite…
For the final event of the Whiteline series, the untameable elements decided to throw buckets and centimetres of rain at us. Sydney received an absolutely brutal lashing by some of the most severe thunderstorms, lightning and intense rain we’ve experienced for years.
In fact, there was so much lightning that the venue was unwilling to risk turning on the pit lighting due to fear of a strike.
Racing was postponed and the track was closed at least twice while organizers waited for the rivers and standing water across the track to flow away and ease to safer, more manageable levels.
In a way, not having the most powerful or dialled-in car helped our cause. While other drivers were forced to stop, our moderately modified Evolution was out-performing my expectations and really didn’t feel too much slower than our dry laps of the previous round.
We ended up placing around 25th out of 70 cars.
Comparing a video of the wet run to the previous dry event confirmed similar times for at least the first half of the course.
In hindsight, I think the lack of pit lane lighting was more of a hindrance to time than the rain, and there are no words that can accurately describe the intensity of racing essentially in pitch darkness. 1m30s is a pretty solid example.
Distances are harder to judge when they’re submerged in darkness, and for the most part I found myself relying on memory to point the car in the right direction.
Accurately determining the amount of room between bollards at maximum attack with nothing but shitty lights always felt like a gamble, and one with terrible odds.
This was easily one of the most intimidating experiences I’ve lived through, and that’s coming from a kid who grew up on the bad side of the railway line for most of his life.
But let’s focus on the differences in handling. Was it noticeable? Did it help? Was I happy? Yes, yes and yes.
Having half a week before letting loose on the track, I took the Evo to a private skidpan with the intention of leaning on the car hard enough through corners to lose it intentionally in a safe environment.
Ultimately, I ran of real estate to safely continue increasing speed – Project Nine was rock solid.
While the heavy rain may have had a negative effect on sprint times, the slippery conditions highlighted the car’s enhanced handling abilities. Primarily, maintaining four wheels of contact rather than three during aggressive cornering.
The additional grip and chassis rigidity made the car feel a lot of more stable, planted and predictable than with the tired factory setup.
I’d steer, it would respond. Over the course of the night and event through ever-worsening conditions, the level of trust continued to grow.
As for side effects or negative ride impact, the car feels essentially the same. Being that the height and core springs/dampers weren’t replaced, the Evo’s compliance over bumps remains unchanged.
Really, to notice any improvements one needs to be driving at speed.
The testing, of course, included being put through the paces at the tarmac rallysprint, but the car also gets tested daily during the grind of both family and work duties.
Whiteline’s under car package has undergone some rigorous testing and has ticked off another aspect of Project Nine’s original goals of adding performance without introducing massive compromises to comfort or reliability.
I’m not sure where to turn my attention and spanners to next. I’m tossing up between either continuing the suspension with refreshing or replacing the ageing standard Bilstein shocks, or spending some time tidying up a few minor annoyances under the hood.
Let me know what you’d focus on in the comments below.
Additional Photography by Dave Oliver and Sam Law
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