The National Court was convened at Motor Sports House on Wednesday 26th November 2008 to consider an appeal by Mitsubishi Motors UK against the exclusion of Guy Wilks' car from the Trackrod International Rally Yorkshire on 27th September 2008.
The Court established that the British Rally Championship element of the Trackrod Rally Yorkshire was an International event and therefore subject to the International Sporting Code of the FIA.
The Court heard evidence from David Higgins of Team TQ.com who had protested Wilks' car on the basis that the steering column used on Wilks' Mitsubishi Evo IX was not homologated.
Mitsubishi accepted that the top of the column had been modified, but argued that this was permitted under Appendix J, Article 254 / Article 6.7.3 of the International Sporting Code as the steering column forms part of one of the car's controls.
The Court heard evidence from Chris Hodgson, Technical Manager of ADR Motorsport who builds and runs Wilks' Mitsubishi, and Paul Brigden, General Manager of Ralliart UK and Team Principal of Mitsubishi Motors UK works rally team.
Mr Hodgson told the court that the method of attaching the steering wheel to the Evo IX's homologated steering column was not sufficiently robust for competitive use. In his statement Mr Hodgson said:
"We first experienced a serious problem with the pinch bolt fixing on the steering column of the Mitsubishi Evo VIII MR in early 2005. This model was the first to have a pinch bolt fixing on the steering column whereas the Evo VIII had a taper and nut type fixing.
"The problem was that the steering wheel easily came loose under rally use when attached to the pinch bolt fixing on the steering column. When the steering wheel worked loose it would simply spin round on the steering column without turning it. The splines on the pinch bolt fixing are very fine and do not enable the steering wheel to be fixed to the steering column securely enough for rally use."
He continued in his statement: "We therefore changed the pinch bolt top fixing of that steering column for the standard Mitsubishi taper and nut fixing from the Evo VIII steering column, because the pinch bolt type fixing was clearly not suitable for rally use."
The Court had received a statement from Patrick Malley, a driver for M Rally Team competing in the New Zealand Rally Championship and the Pirelli Star Driver Championship, running a Group N Mitsubishi Evo IX.
In his statement Mr Malley said: "I was coming around a fifth gear corner at approximately 150kph when the steering wheel completely broke off from the top of the steering column."
Mr Malley continued in his statement that he then borrowed a replacement steering boss in order to participate in the rally the following day, but that on the following day "upon impact with [a] bank, the connection between the pinch bolt top fixing of the steering column and the steering wheel failed exactly as it had done the previous day."
Mr Brigden confirmed that for normal road use on the production car, the component was "adequate."
Mr Hodgson told the Court that this issue had been exacerbated by Mr Wilks' height. Wilks' steering wheel had been extended to achieve a satisfactory driving position for the 6'4" driver and this additional length would have placed further strain on the attachment to the steering column, said Mr Hodgson.
Mr Higgins asked Mr Hodgson, if the homologated mounting was as dangerous as Mr Hodgson had suggested, whether he should have informed other competitors.
Having considered all of the available evidence, the Court concluded that the modification of the steering column, while not homologated, could be allowed under Appendix J, Article 254 / Article 6.7.3 of the International Sporting Code. As a result, the Court decided that the appeal must be allowed.
The Court felt it appropriate to make the following additional comments:
i) that if Mitsubishi have such genuine concerns that they consider the pinch bolt type of attachment to be inadequate for rally use, they should immediately make those concerns known to all persons using vehicles of this type for rallying, and that
ii) they should take such steps as are necessary to regularise general use of the taper and nut attachment by specific reference within the Regulations so far as possible.
The Court ordered that the appeal fees be refunded and the results of the Trackrod International Rally Yorkshire be re-issued with Car number 1 reinstated as the event winner. No order was made towards costs.