While many people immediately associate rally racing with all-wheel drive cars, there is actually a large contingent of both front- and rear-wheel drive racing rigs. And despite the fact the RAV4 is available with AWD, Millen’s Rally America Championship entry drives only the front wheels. And not only that, it’s powered by the stock 2.5-liter engine and is equipped with the stock six-speed automatic transmission. Yes, this is a FWD, automatic-equipped rally racer. Heck, it even employs the stock ECU! That means this vehicle produces 176 horsepower and 172 ft/lbs. of torque through the stock drivetrain. But don’t worry, the competition is fierce.
"We are racing a stock vehicle in an essentially open class, said Millen. Shocks and brake pads are the primary thing we have changed, apart from a safety roll cage."
So how is it possible to be so competitive in a nearly stock vehicle?
"What makes us successful with the RAV4 is its build construction. Being an SUV, things like bolts, brakes, and the suspension are over built, said Millen. Where others are trying to make a car reliable in such a harsh environment, we are thriving. The RAV4 has a ton of wheel travel, similar to a TRD Pro Tundra. We can carry so much more speed through rough terrain where others have to worry about protecting their vehicle."
Let’s face it: This is a racing vehicle, so it’s not 100% stock. But the modifications, which include a rollcage, fire suppression system, a gutted interior, and Sparco racing seats with five-point harnesses, are mainly for safety. Additionally, the Rally RAV4 has a faster steering ratio (1.5:1), TEIN dampers, Porterfield brake pads, 15 Method wheels, plexi windows, full underbody protection, and—like any good rally car—a hydraulic handbrake for executing the perfect Scandinavian flick around hairpins. Stock, the RAV4 weighs 3,455 lbs., but slims down only 105 lbs. for racing.
So what’s it like to race a nearly stock RAV4?
"It's awesome! said Millen. I've raced a lot of different types of vehicles. Primarily my background has been with off-road racing—Baja 1000 etc. Those types of vehicles are typically very heavy and have a lot of wheel travel. When you compare them with the RAV4, it's a night and day difference. The Rally RAV4 is so much more stable in high speed corners and the grip is insanely better."
So how’s did the RAV4 do this year? In one word: stellar. I personally witnessed Millen and Fate at the Oregon Trail Rally back in May of 2016 and despite the myriad of stock parts, it kicked some butt. They took the top spot in their class and a fifth overall ... in a nearly stock, automatic-equipped FWD RAV4. That says something.
"We've had an awesome year so far. There's two more rounds to go and we are sitting in second place by five points," said Millen. This was in August of 2016.
Millen would finish in either first or second place in every race for the 2016 season. However, it all came down to the last race of the year—Vermont’s Lake Superior Performance Rally (LSPR). Unfortunately on stage 6, Millen and Fate missed a corner, forcing them to go off the course, hitting some trees, and coming to a stop. With damage to the RAV4, Millen and Fate opted to retire rather than risk it, and came in a hard-fought second place at the LSPR, which resulted in a second-place overall finish for the year. Millen did, however, take the esteemed Jeff Moyle Cup as the 2016 Rally America Rookie of the Year.
Congratulations to Millen, Fate, and the entire RAV4 Rally team for a heck of a season in what could only be described as an underdog of a vehicle. Great work, and we look forward to what 2017 has to offer.
For more information and to keep up with the team, visit RallyRAV4.com.
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Fall 2016 Issue: