Friday, December 23, 2011

Merry Christmas

Hi everyone,

I wish you all a merry Christmas, see you next year! 

Best regards,


Friday, October 7, 2011

NEWSFLASH: Translations for Poland

Exciting news indeed for our Polish friends. 
The polish motorsport website has requested to progressively translate chapter per chapter onto their website.  Here is the link to their translation of Chapter 1:

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Interview translated to English !

Hello !

I have had some requests to post a translation of my 27/09/11 post into English.  Here it is:

In November it will be 6 years from your last start in the World Rally Championship. Why has your career at Ford come to end after Rally Australia 2005?
Our deal with Malcolm Wilson came to an end after Rally Australia 2005.  After that, I spoke to Malcolm Wilson and wrote to Jost Capito about continuing with Ford, but not as a customer.  I was thinking that since I was German and my country is an important market, perhaps they could try to find funding from dealers to let me continue with them and progress more.  
Unfortunately, they both made it clear that the choice was to go with Finnish drivers for the next years. Mr Capito wrote me that Malcolm Wilson was in charge of choosing drivers.  I got the impression at that time, that Ford Europe did not have any plan to develop drivers who would have a strong marketing value in relevance to important markets, as for example Peugeot and Citroën have done in the past by hiring drivers who came from countries where the markets were important (ie. France, Spain, Great Britain)  For me it was clear that the doors at Ford were closed, unless I paid for a drive in a customer car.  

Was it the most difficult moment in your career?
It was unpleasant feeling but nothing too dramatic. I had other hopes elsewhere. 

How much money did Ford want for a customer car?
As far as I know the prices started around 150.000Euros per event but the final costs depended on many things.

In 2006 you spoke with Red Bull Skoda about WRC. Why did it not succeed?
At the time I received information that Raimund Baumschlager was in charge of that project so I called him.  We talked many times and it was very positive.  He made it clear to me, over the phone, that he was seriously considering me to drive the car.  I found out later that Raimund Baumschlager was also dependent of Armin Schwarz and Thomas Uberall (Red Bull sponsoring boss).  I spoke to all of them on the phone, to see how things were.  At the time, I had just been voted best German rally driver of the year by the German press. Considering my results at the top level of Rallying and my experience in a private car, I felt that I was in a rather strong position.  I had also been invited to test the Skoda Fabia WRC of First Motorsport, so I also had an idea of what the car was capable of.  
When I spoke to Raimund Baumschager again, he said to me that I was too old (28).  It turned out that, later, among drivers like Ekström and Aigner, they hired Panizzi and Rovanperä, two of the oldest WRC drivers around.  Today I still don't understand what happened really. 

You drove th Mini WRC in UK. What do you think about this car?
The Mini WRC has an impressive chassis.  Prodrive have developed a car which has good balance between suspension, differentials and weight distribution. I was immediately thinking that the car gives confidence.  For me, confidence is among the top things to worry about when you develop a car.  I don't see the sense in developing a car which is perfect on paper if the drivers are not able to push it to the limit with safety.  In WRC, drivers have to push so hard with only 2 recce passes that the confidence you get from the car is absolutely crucial

How do you compare the Mini with "old WRC"?
It is difficult to compare the cars because I drove the Mini in special conditions, on tarmac with gravel tires.  Perhaps if I could drive it on a gravel road I could tell you much more! 

You saw the Mini in Finland. Have you noticed anything interesting?
From my point of view the car looks like it has very good balance when it is driving on the stages.  With that in mind and considering how early the car is in its phase of development I think there is big potential to come.

Do you want to come-back to WRC?
Obviously I would like to come back as I have a strong passion for the sport.  I don't know if I will come back but I know for sure that it would be only with people who believe in me and who are doing the sport because they love it.

VW is planning starts in WRC. Do you think there will be room in the team for drivers from Germany? Have you any chances?
I have read from their press releases that they are looking for the next young Walter Röhrl.  I think that they are serious about putting a German in a car.  From their press releases, it looks like VW is focused on an established superstar driver, and up and coming young drivers of around 20 years of age. As I am neither an established superstar, nor a 20 year old driver, I do not see how I could fit in VW's vision of the future. 

You come from Germany, but for a time lived in Belgium. Why?
My dad was the team manager of MAZDA RALLY TEAM EUROPE and the Japanese firm wanted the team to be based in Brussels.   

Did you decide exactly in Brussels that you would be a rally driver?
Yes I did.  In those days Timo Salonen was my rally hero because he took me on a test road in Finland.  I was maybe 10 yrs old and the belts were too big…So I was floating when the car jumped and holding myself in the bucket seat!  I will never forget that.  It was really awesome.

In 1973 year your father won Rally of Poland. In 2000 year you were his co-driver in Network Q Rally. How do you remeber your debut in WRC?  
It was very exciting to co-drive with my dad on the Network Q Rally.  I remember that the stages were impressive and we worked well together.  At the time I was learning everything and reading the notes on time was taking all my attention.  I did not see much of the outside because I was looking down at my note pad a lot! It was fantastic to read notes and feel the road under you as the car accelerates, turns.  It takes real trust for a co-driver to keep his eyes down and read.  On this rally I learned the high importance of having a good co-driver and good notes. 

Is a father-son crew a good idea?
I don't see any problem with a father-son crew if they are able to work well together.   

What do you do now?
I am now managing a construction project in France.  The project has been ongoing for almost 10 years and I am hoping it will come to end very soon.

Why did you decide to write a blog "WRC behind the stages"?
After I stopped driving the Ford, it took a while to grasp the big picture of what exactly happened over 3 years of driving with them.  At that time, my mentality was: if things happen to you, you just keep it for yourself and deal with it.  Over the years my attitude changed. With my work of dealing with the construction business, lawyers and notaries everyday, my view of how things work in the world evolved.  I realized one day that, what happened with Ford was something special and I felt that I had to share it with others.  
One day, I decided to write a blog.  My intention was to put my story out there.  This was my way to do it.  I did not want to have any regret later in my life and think "why did you keep quiet ?".  
I had absolutely no idea that people would be so interested in what I had to say.  I was really surprised to see all the views and touched by all the support I was getting.  I was also surprised when I started receiving emails from others who had lived similar stories

Do you think that for example M. Wilson or R. Baumschlager are reading your blog?
I think it is possible that they read it. I got emails and blog comments from various people who are involved in rallysport, but no actual WRC drivers.

One of the posts on your blog begins "I love Poland". Why do you like Poland? You started in Poland only in 2002 year, when were very difficult conditions (heavy rain etc).
The Polish people are very nice and welcoming.  The country is beautiful.  I also love the fact that Rally sport is so popular over there.  Oh, and the food was good!  

Which polish food do you like the most?
I don’t remember food names from 9 years ago but there was a dish which I think was a gulasz and I liked it very much.

You fought with Polish drivers not only in Poland. What do you think about their skills?
They are very, very fast on tarmac.  At the time Kuzaj and Kulig were the main drivers that I was dealing with on the stages.  I was a beginner and I learned a lot from that time.   

In 2003 year Tomasz Kuchar drove in WRC with Focus WRC.
I remember the name Kuchar, yes. I checked his times when he did the same rallies as I did.

What would you change in your career, if you could turn back time?
I think I wrote about that in the blog.  I would have done the same but asked Peugeot for a car instead of Ford. I would have fit much better in Peugeot.   As a German driver showing potential, I am confident they would have seen me as an asset for their marketing.  At the time, Jean-Pierre Nicolas told me in person that I was interesting for the Peugeot brand.  It was just very unfortunate that they pulled out of rally in the end of 2005.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Chapter 18: Swedish wheel of fortune

If I remember correctly the first WRC cars appeared in 1997.  I remember the first ever pic I saw of one was that of the SUBARU WRC in tarmac spec.  The cars had suddenly become much wider!
Then for a number of years I noticed that cars were running wheels with this sort of offset on the Swedish Rally: 

These wheels reduced the car's track width! Why would you want to do that?

I ran with these wheels on the 2003 and 2004 Swedish Rally as well. 

I noticed that the works cars had flat wheels (no offset) from 2003 onwards.  I wondered why.


As I understood it back then, there was an issue as far as driving was concerned, which had to do with how wide your track was and its relation to the width of the ruts dug by the other cars that ran in front of you.  The issue only took place on the second run over stages where dozens of narrower tracked cars had gone through (hours ago on the first pass). 

In the Swedish Rally, it's slippery, yes.  That is clear I think we can all agree.  The thing is that, depending on the thickness of snow and ice (which for some climatic bizarreness is seldom thick in the Swedish Rally area), all the braking points in the stages get dug up, exposing the gravel, in the ruts mainly.  Therefore the level of grip under braking gets dramatically improved. 

So the word out was: it could be a problem to run a wider track car.  The car could jump out of the ruts because it doesn't fit!  Since it was absolutely crucial to hang in the ruts under braking, it made sense to me.
Funnily enough I did not experience anything of such.  Not even in 2005 when I ran the no-offset wheels for the first time.

   2004 spec Focus

That year, I learned something else, what might have been the major advantage of those wheels:

Their strength.

The feeling with the 2004 Focus was better than with any car I had ever driven.  For the first time, I felt comfortable pushing hard, so I punched it up step by step.  I remember specifically one stage:

The rhythm was fast.  While in a high speed left hander, I was just following the line, looking far ahead for the next corner when suddenly "BANG".  Big impact in the front left wheel.  I thought for sure this will have consequences.  Only a puncture if I'm lucky.  But no, nothing.  I kept going, stressed out.  Then another impact!  I thought "OMG what is this?" 

The impacts were due to small but very sharp bumps and pot holes.  Invisible due to the fact that it was cloudy and as you may know it's very hard to see shapes and details on a white background.  Our shocks were extremely soft, the car was running very low and the speed was high.  All these factors mean that the slightest sharp impact on a wheel will bump it through to the shocker's bump stop and "BANG".

I thought I had been extremely lucky because my front left wheel was fine. 

Mikko Hirvonen was not so lucky.  We rode in the same bus to the hotel that day and he told me that his wheel exploded on one of those bumps.  He was running the offset wheels. 


On that day I understood from first hand experience that there was a huge difference between the two types of wheels as far as impacts were concerned.  Not mentioning the handling improvement, this in my sense is obvious.

As I started writing this post I got interested to find out who ran the flat wheels first.  The earliest shot I could find was this one from 2002: 

Good idea.

Just a thought that came through my mind about sharp impacts.  If ever you are driving and for whatever reason you are about to have a wheel go over a nasty bump, stone, pot-hole or whatever, make sure you have the steering wheel straight at the moment of impact.  Straight wheels will greatly enhance your chances of not suffering damage.  This goes for tires as well as suspension parts.  It may seem like a trivial thing but this reflex may well be the difference between walking home or driving home. 

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

RSI: Punctures, punctures...

Just a thought on Deutschland rally:

I would like to express my opinion on the subject of punctures.  I believe punctures are an inherent part of motorsport.  Usually, a driver will puncture when he drives carelessly, or if he/she goes off and hits something.  In the last few years, drivers have been getting used to bullet-proof tires and have been taking habits of driving all over the road, ditches included, with no consequences whatsoever. 

It seems to me that in most cases, if a driver takes big risks and especially careless ones, the possibility of him or her puncturing and therefore losing time adds spice to the rally.  Perhaps Michelin should not strengthen their tires too much, contrary to what some have asked, so as to leave an element of uncertainty.

What do you think?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Chapter 17: Walkabout

There are some memories that stay deeply imprinted in your mind, for various reasons.  Rally Australia 2005 is one of them for me.  
I remember practically nothing from practice, or recce that is.  Ok, I know that we got a rental car from the airport, probably a Rav-4 or something like that, right hand drive.

Oh yes, right hand drive, GREAT!

I would say that if you plan to go to Australia or NZ or Japan to do the rally and plan to go that extra distance in the first place, don’t settle (like me) for a simple airport right hand drive car. Why?  The problem is that since the rally car is left hand drive, sitting on the right changes your perception of corners and the road in general.  If you rely on visual memory associated with notes (doesn’t everybody?) it’s a disadvantage.  Not to mention the fact that it’s weird to drive a right hand car when you’re not used to it.  Factory teams all have their own recce cars brought in.  It’s expensive but in my opinion, if you’re out for a result, it’s imperative to do the same.  If you just can’t do otherwise at least get some proper tires.  We tried to avoid going on stages with the standard road tires and when possible used some better ones.  My philosophy, first of all, was to avoid punctures and have better grip.  I found out through trial and error that van tires were a great solution.   So after picking up the airport recce car, I usually went to a local tire shop and asked for van or small truck tires to be fit on it.  The reason is that truck tires are made for supporting heavy weight, so they have stronger sidewalls, which was exactly how to avoid punctures.  Another thing to consider was grip so obviously a sort of “off-road” tread pattern was always useful.   Ok, after I got my airport recce car with truck tires and the recce GPS fitted it was time for action.

I got nothing to say about the actual recce ‘cause I am blank on that. Pass.

Shakedown was interesting because this happened to us:

There was small jump, after a short straight coming out of a 5th gear right hander, followed by a 50m straight and a square left through a gate.  Apparently the gate was a popular one and not only with us.  I think Armin Schwarz took a wheel off there.   I sliced my car like a sashimi strip.

Oh, a little anecdote for you on that small jump:

Back in 2003 I found myself together with other drivers and out of the blue I asked Markko Märtin if he brakes before or after the jump. He said in a rather amused tone:

“before the jump, or I  won’t make it for the next bend!”

I did not get him, because I was braking after and it was ok.  Needless to say that was back in the days when I believed in fairy tales and I had not experienced the Yeti yet.   

Ok, back to the subject.  The next thing I recall is when we found ourselves together with Dani Sola and he asked:

“Hey Antony, you know the super special stage?”

I did, it was a horse racing track of some sort, similar to the one in Finland, with a long first corner after the start. 


“What gear do you take the long left corner?”

That would be normally in 5th, sort of on and off throttle, between the two walls.

“In 6th gear, flat out!”

I was joking with him but the problem was I did not realize he did not get it.  So he drove it in 6th.  Needless to say he came to us, laughing and somewhat angry, after his close experience with the wall and said something which I don’t remember exactly but in the lines of:

“*#&@*##!  It was 5th gear!!”

So I replied:

“yes I am sorry it was a misunderstanding, I thought you understood I was joking!”

No harm done, luckily.  Poor Dani, I was sorry about that.

Now comes the moment of truth, the stages.  I was obsessed with one thing and one thing only:  Not being first, second or third on the road on Saturday, which meant I had to kick the tires on the first day: 
Aggressive tire choice.  I took a 9 (full cut and 1/2 cut on the L block) and knew most of the others were on 9 or 9+.  The Michelin 9 compound was rather hard, 9(+) being the hardest and 8(-) the softest.  Back in the days of lore, in late 90’s-early 2000’s there was also some super soft compound called 7, which Michelin never proposed anymore because they just wouldn’t last the amount of kilometers we had to do on one set.   

I had 77km to run over 5 stages on those tires. Normally it would not have been a safe choice to make, but I thought since it was so slippery, with the ball-bearing gravel inherent to Australia, why not?
I admit my tires looked pretty bad after the 3rd stage.  All the cutting that had been done on the tire meant it was overheating.  We were locked in an intensive battle with lots of fast guys so I had to keep pressing.  The stage I went off in was the one where Daniel Carlsson roasted his Peugeot, where Bosse got stuck in a hairpin, where Petter explored the bush wildlife, on different years.  In short, the stage was tricky and had claimed lots of cars over the years:

I remember the crash in rather good detail.  I also remember I had almost gone off at least twice until that moment.  Then came a really fast section in the forest, over some crests where I had a “flat right minus braking” in the notes before a sharp left.   Instead off backing off a bit due to the little tread left on my tires and hence little grip, I decided not to.

I never made the next corner. 
After a couple of frantic, last second, soon to crash adjustments: “avoid this big tree, then avoid that big tree...” we ended up on the roof, off the road.   

From that moment onwards I hung out in the service park.

That’s it for Rally Australia but on another note, during the service park walkabout I had a chat with the lady who was in charge of the OMV sponsorship rally program.  She was looking at the possibility of setting up a two car team together with Manfred Stohl as one of the drivers for the following 2006 season.  This was interesting.  Since they had had good results in 2005, she gave me the impression 2 cars were now in order.  The OMV lady was apparently quite well involved and she was trying to decide which cars to use for next season.  She asked me, if I had to choose between a Peugeot or a Citroën, which one is the best.  I told her without a doubt:  

“Citroën, IF you can choose.”

I found out later at the ADAC end of year gala in Munich, that she was interested to do sponsor sharing between the 2 cars and take care of press releases, period.  She would not fund both cars, only one.  As I had no access to a major sponsor I backed out of that road and looked elsewhere for a drive.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Poll results

According to the poll, 40% of voters think the MINI WRC has the coolest sounding engine. 

I feel obliged to concur and admit I thoroughly enjoy this high pitch, on throttle blasting, spewing  from that unusual double exhaust.  Not to mention the "machine-gun like" rattle, firing out when the driver comes off the throttle. 

Obviously, exhaust sounds have become an important consideration when today's road cars are designed.  I am unaware if noise was at all considered by Prodrive in their design of the MINI's exhaust system.  Whatever the considerations, the result is effective. 

Saturday, August 6, 2011


I have to admit I am rather interested in the turn that WRC is taking.  Among other things, it seems the FIA is putting in motion quite an amount of new ideas.  I am particularly interested in the shakedown qualifying aspect.  When I first heard about that, I was wondering if this would turn into a "making as many runs as possible" frenzy where the sprint drivers would come out on top every time after, say, having 15 goes at it...  Or would it respect the rallying mentality of doing 2 recce passes and then flat out commitment on notes, with the first attempt counting as the qualifying time.  It seems the latest talk is about the third run or best out of three runs counting as the qualifying time.  So who knows...

I don't know if it will ever be possible to get over this tactics business.

Back when I still drove, the first 10 or 15 cars were reversed.  The best guys had a clean road, they were happy.  The privateers and slower factory cars were not, of course.  Rallies were usually won by a Frenchman on saturday evening, with over a minute lead.  Sunday was usually a walk in the park for him.  At least today there is almost always a heavy fight up until the end.

So all in all this whole thing about running order and tactics seems to me like a never ending spiral. 

I was wondering about one thing.  Keep in mind  the idea I am about to propose maybe totally ridiculous, but as this is my personal blog...   

Has anyone talked about ballasting the top cars yet, say, with something similar to the system in place in WTCC?

Here is my take on the matter:

When I look at the big picture, it seems that no matter what has been done to regulate the running order, cleaning, etc. over the past years has not had the results hoped for.  There is always a loser of some kind, somebody who is disadvantaged.  It is unfortunate that the majority of interviewed drivers I see on TV are systematically talking about their running position, how much they lose, gain, etc.  I keep hearing the same things over again and there seems to be a lot of complaints about tactics being employed.

Compared to 10 years ago, today's cars are very close to each other in terms of performance.  Everybody has the same tires, similar gearboxes, shocks, differentials.  Rallies are shorter, etc.  What has happened over the years is: we have seen gaps get smaller and smaller to such an extent that road conditions has become "the" thing to talk about.  10 years ago, if Mäkinen lost 1 minute opening the road on the first day, he knew he could gain it all back the next day with, for example, a bold tire choice, or perhaps because his car was better on some upcoming rough roads... Nowadays, everything is so controlled and perfected that these sorts of differences seldom occur.  Differences are therefore left to be made with road sweeping.

The fact is that, in rally, road conditions change car after car and obviously someone will always have an issue with it.  I don't think you can control that, no matter what you try. 

What you can control, on the other hand, is car performance.  Perhaps this is something to think about.

I would be really interested to know what you guys think about this!  I am looking forward to discussing this further, or any other ideas about this subject!  Pandora's box is now open.

Hey everybody!

I hope most of you are managing to have a little break from work during this summer period. Things have been rather stressfull lately as far as I am concerned so I have tried to really make the most of my time off. 

The dedicated thread, over on was interesting as some of you asked questions which I enjoyed answering.

I have just returned from Finland a few days ago and did manage to visit the Neste Oil Rally Finland service park in Jyväskylä.  I will post some photos later.  It was nice to say hello to a few faces I had not seen in a long while. Having therefore had a chance to listen to the rally cars in person for the first time in a while, I must admit I am tempted to run a little poll dedicated to finding out which car you think sounds the best. I have my personal favorite which I will reveal after the poll closes.

Some of you have been asking if I have any news to report. Well, I have had a request from a Polish WRC monthly magazine to conduct a full page interview, which should be published in August or September. I shall look into getting permission to post it on the blog after it comes out.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

MRTE Facebook Group


This is a call to let any ex-employees of MRTE know that we have made a facebook page dedicated to MRTE that you can join! 

Here is the link:!/home.php?sk=group_119702574767232&ap=1

See you there!

Sunday, June 12, 2011


Apart for the latest Mini test, I did drive a rally car once, since Australia 2005 with the Focus: 

This happened in Finland, near Hämeenlinna, in 2009. It happened to be with a rear wheel drive car: BMW. 

I had never driven a rear wheel drive rally car before.

I tell you what:

I was glad the first touch happened on a big wide rallycross circuit because I spun twice on my first lap! My passenger, who was the car's previous owner, must have thought: "OMG who is this guy?" The track was wide and there was no danger to hit anything, so at least like this I managed to figure out what the car could do.

Why did it spin?

Simply because I was used to 4 wheel drive, where you can come into corners with blazing guns and brake so late a priest would lose his faith over it.

I had to rethink my approach, have a coffee break, a bit of a chat with my friends, then it was ok. 

Unlike WRC cars, where the rear is super stable, in this car I had to brake much earlier. Then I had to turn into corners very smoothly, off the brakes. I waited and applied throttle gently as I got closer to the apex. Then I gunned it and hoped for the best!

After that we took the car on a forest road, it was cool to drive in Finland again!

You can find more pics of this adventure on the BMW page.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Prodrive surprise

Hi guys, it's been a little quiet these days on the blog.  I have been very busy with work and there is a also another good reason:  I was recently invited by Prodrive to drive the Mini WRC.  Luckily I was able to put work on hold and fly up to Banbury.

I can already hear some of you asking: how the heck did that happen?

Pretty simple:

Thanks to my blog, I got a message from a gentleman, who understood 100% of my story.  So we got to talking and next thing I knew I got an email saying Prodrive is inviting me to try the Mini WRC and discuss about things. 

I said: "Ok I'm there!"

Once up there, the potential connection between my being German and the involvment of BMW was discussed.  Prodrive and I both agreed that it was worth trying to make something out of it.  I was welcoming Prodrive's enthousiasm. 

The test was organised on Prodrive's Warwick test track, which is basically an old reconverted Royal Air Force airport, on which they have built a small track which resembles those made for karting. When I was first told about the test, that we were running on gravel suspension and gravel tires, Prodrive was making an effort to explain that I should not worry. 

I said: "It's ok guys, I love driving on karting tracks with a rally car and especially on gravel tires."

Here is why:

So it slides like hell and you can drive like a maniac, that's why!

In the video, you can hear me joke about Terry the test driver knocking some cones over.  Well that's because when I was driving he told me to make sure not to knock them down... cause it's a pain to go and put them back every time.  Then when he drives, guess what?

He knocks them over! 

I drove the 1st test car ever made.  You know, the one that was yellow in the beginning. 

They said: "Ah, it's all beaten up and battered.  Please don't be worried, the mechanical parts are good."

Again I said: "Guys, don't worry!  Take it easy!"

I then heard they had just changed the gearbox because it broke, ok.

But then they said : "Yeah, it broke after 3.000kms of testing.  We were just leaving it in there until it brakes.  We were wondering when it might happen.  Now a tooth on 2nd gear just broke."

Wow, that put my perspective back in it's place.  Impressive reliability for that X-Trac sequential gear box, considering there is no hydraulic clutch anymore, just an ignition cut to help with changes.

So after driving the Mini my first thought was about how quickly I got comfortable in it.  The Mini is driver friendly, in a big way.  With a very linear engine that is making the throttle giving predictable and smooth.   Despite the relative softness from the Ohlin gravel suspension, steering the car with precision and brushing the cones was easy.  I was amazed and quickly confident with the braking potential and it was hard not to overdo the late braking...  Transiting from hard braking to steering into corners was accompanied by understeering, a bit.  So I had to use handbrake all the time for tighter corners, which means anything up to 3rd gear.  This is totally normal on this sort of track with a gravel suspension.  The car balance was healthy and flicking the car from a left slide to a right slide as you throttle up through the gears was a charm, very responsive and agile chassis. 

The experience was short, but effective.

After that enlightening drive, I had a meeting back at Prodrive where we agreed on the idea to do a promotional drive somewhere and invite some German journalists, see if we can wake Germany up a little.  Lets face it, it's the first time since the Audi Quattro days that a German manufacturer steps into WRC.  Not only one but two: VW and BMW!   Who knows what this might kick start.  Things are starting to happen in a good way for the sport. 

PS. Check out the Mini page for more pics!

Monday, May 16, 2011

RSI: VW beginnings

I drove this VW Golf when I was 18, in a rally, in south Sweden.  It was my first time driving a rally car ever.  I had Per Carlsson as co-driver and he helped me getting around the stage.  I did not use any notes as there was no recce, if I remember correctly, but he helped me get around the stage just fine. 

Driving this front wheel drive car was a lot of fun.  This is where I first learned to left foot brake.  A know-how that I then carried on into the 4wd machines I drove later.  Very useful.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Chapter 16: Did you say sponsors?

Ahh the sponsors.  A sponsor here... A sponsor there.

Back in the days when I had an opportunity from Jean-Pierre Nicolas, Peugeot Motorsport boss, to drive a Peugeot 307 WRC in 2006, I interested myself on finding a sponsor related to the car industry.  While visiting the Rallye du Var service place, on a cold november day of 2005, I met a gentleman who had a company which dealt with used car warranties.  It turned out he would later become a good friend of mine.  I did not know at the time, but the used car warranty business has a very important role in the auto industry and therefore he enlightened me on the topic.  He was basically an insurance broker and had around 5.000 contracts in his portfolio.  Business was ok for him, but he was looking to extend. 

His main advantage over the competition was about the software he was using to manage his system.  The guy had a very good friend, who was CEO of an important software company.  This friend of his offered to develop a software dedicated specially for the warranty business and in return he could get some shares of his company.  So, it was a win-win deal.  This software allowed my friend to manage everything from A to Z much faster than any system that existed and in turn needed less manpower.

So, we discussed possibilities together, I opened up my small address book and he opened up his.  It turned out I knew JP Nicolas quite well, and my friend happened to know that both Peugeot Italy and Peugeot Spain were about to look into the renewal of the current warranty deals they had running.  Perfect moment for us to step in, try to get a deal done with the Peugeot importers, and therefore get access to big markets right?

If it worked, this deal had the potential to fund my whole season so it was well worth the try.

My first task was to call JP Nicolas and tell him of the project.  He liked it and supplied me with all the necessary contacts to get this thing rolling.  He told me we could openly bid for the contracts and was proud to explain that Peugeot had an official policy of transparency when making invitations to tender.

I contacted both the Peugeot Italy and Spain bosses, who were french natives.  I speak fluent french, so, why not.  Anyway, the Italian boss was nice and invited us to participate in the bid together with some other companies.  Turns out, later, they awarded the deal to the Groupe Courtois, from France.  Oh well, we tried.

As far as Spain was concerned it was a bit different and much funnier.  I got the Spain boss on the phone and he sounded rather uninterested, right from the start, as if I was annoying him.  I stayed polite and he said I should write him an e-mail.  I thought that was a bad first step but lets try anyway.  No pain no gain, right?
I sat down together with my friend and we managed to write an e-mail telling about his company and what it could bring Peugeot Spain in terms of quality in the warranty handling and the subsequent plus it would bring to used car sales.  We thought it was rather concise, around a page long.  Ok, off it went. 

Later, we got an answer. 

Basically the guy said that our proposal was not on par with what they were looking for, period, nothing more.  Impossible, I thought, we had done our homework.  We knew what they needed and made our offer specially tailored for them.  Either we were completely crazy or the guy just didn't read the email or he had another agenda.  Not a good sign. 

Facing this, I started having some doubts about the whole thing and whether it was worth wasting more time and energy on.  I decided to answer him, just to test my theory, with something that looked like this:

"Hello Mr Peugeot Spain boss,
If you choose our company, we will return some of our profits to Peugeot Spain.
Best regards,"

So, in other words I said give us the contract and we'll pay Peugeot a kick-back for it.  I thought that if my e-mail was a sentence in length, he would have to read it and to hell with all the formalities and other crap.  Let's just get to the point, right?

Right!  The guy answered, from his phone, within 2 minutes. 

He said: "...ok, please contact mr xxxx, he will take it from there..."

So, in light of this, we decided to give up.  My friend wasn't prepared to go down that track.  He had a company to run and bills to pay.  He couldn't spare cash on kick-backs.  I concluded, from my first ever try at finding budget from business to business type sponsoring deals, that you have to be prepared to give kick-backs. 

I had a few other tries at securing sponsorship deals.  I noticed that sponsoring deals are sometimes about people wanting to do some tax deductions in exchange for some motorsport action or about kick-backs.  Either way, such deals will only happen if the people involved trust each other, and therefore probably know each other from somewhere.  Obviously, here we are speaking of relatively "small" sponsors in the grand scheme of things, in the order of 1 or 2 million Euro or less.  I am pretty sure it will be more straight forward business deal if Apple computers decides to sponsor Williams GP, for example. 

The fact of the matter is that, in a sport like Rally, a given company whose logo is on a car probably doesn't get much return from investment unless it is accompanied by a hard core PR campaign.  What I am saying is that investing 2.500.000Euro on a driver so he can do the season won't help your company.  This will be barely enough to finance the car...And then what?  The TV won't film you unless you pay them.  Or crash.  You won't get in the press because factory teams are too hard to beat and you won't get on the podium.  What is the point?  Who cares if a Mexican farmer sees your sponsor logo on the rally car as it passes by, scaring the heck out of his donkeys?

On the other hand, investing 2.000.000 Euro on a driver so he can do a handfull of popular events with a top car and another 500.000 Euro on some proper PR like paying the TV to film you, inviting business guests on events and giving them the full treatment, having a friendly chat and more with journalists just to make sure they include you in the next issue... All this will definitely get the company name out there.

source: Image Library

RSI: Ouninpohja

The famous Ouninpohja jump, ever heard about it?

Of course you have.

Here it is in video:

looks like it's just a simple jump, huh?

It's a bit more than that.

You can't see it on the video, but there is a yellow house to the driver's left just before and therefore it's known as the yellow house jump.

The road leading to the jump is a typical wide Finnish stage with good grip, all the time 5th and 6th gear.  Some of you may have seen the accident that Sebastian Lindholm had back in 2004 with his 307 WRC?  He had the crash a few 100's of meters back, in a rather slow corner combination, where there is a forest opening which allows the spectators to mass.  From the point where he had his crash onwards, it's basically full throttle until the jump.  The stage winds slightly as you go up in the gears and build up the speed.

I don't know exactly how fast it goes up to but I would guess not far from 180kph when you approach the jump.  The difficulty lies just before it.  There is a crest and a right bend where you need to guide the car with millimeter precision on the correct racing line and line up so it jumps ABSOLUTELY straight and in the dead center of the road. 

The speed is such that you have very little time to do this while not upsetting the rear wheels as you take this last flat out corner just before it.  It may not seem like that on the video but this last little corner is tough.  Once lined up for the jump, as a driver, the next thing you see is a very steep climb and the blue sky. 

You know the road continues straight immediately after, but at 180kph and about to launch, it is very difficult not to lift or brake.  I did this jump probably a half dozen times.  I tried it really fast once only, just for the fun of it and recorded 47 meters, landed on the nose, on the right edge of the road.  There is a reason why local guys usually  take it easy on this one, it's potentially very dangerous if you don't lift.

As a matter of fact the long jumps are pretty much always recorded on the first pass, when your ego is still nicely inflated.  On the second pass it's usually one or two steps down on the speed. 

Would gladly like to know who to credit for this pic.


According to the readers, the 1st thing that WRC should change is to have "3 car teams" of which the best 2 cars score points for the manufacturer.  I share the reader's choice. 

Allowing this will immediately open the door to harsher competition with more fast drivers getting chances in real factoy spec cars.  Teams would be able to hire different drivers if they wish, whichever suits best.  A breath of fresh air for the fans and spectators. 

Let's not forget that manufacturers and sponsors alike are doing motorsport for the spectators, in order to subsequently sell their products, a show has to be provided.  Nobody wants to see the same guys winning rallies over and over again.      

I see that many of you have also voted for the night stages to return....I agree, those are fun for drivers aswell!! 

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Chapter 15: Differential extravaganza

Ok the title sounds like I'm about to give an advanced math course (differential equations etc).  Don't worry, I'm not, because I am neither good in math nor have the patience.  But it will be a bit of a heavy read, so don't say I didn't warn you!  

Active differentials were this thing that could either make your car undriveable, great, or something in between.  There was just so much to do.  It was like magic, really.  The car I drove in 2005 had a hydraulic system benefitting from components built by Moog, Inc. a company specialized in building high tech hydraulic equipment.  The system ran up to 100 Bar in pressure.  This high pressure system was extremely sophisticated and reacted in milliseconds to different inputs.  There were sensors all over, that could be used by the software to give exact, instant pressures to all three diffs, independently.

Mainly, there was a throttle sensor, sensitive to the pedal angle.  A brake pedal sensor, sensitive to the pressure exerted on it by your foot.  A wheel spin sensor on each wheel, a ground speed sensor, a steering angle sensor, gear sensor etc.

We experimented with lots of different options, during rallies mostly, as tests were too short to do any real work on it .  The car could be programmed with up to 3 different calibrations for each diff, plus a fully locked and a free mode.  You could cycle through them on the control board at any given time.  There were also buttons on the steering wheel.  I used one of them called the "option button", so that when I pushed it, a different set of diff maps was instantly loaded by the system.  This made life easy in the car as you did not have to take your eyes off the road and start fiddling down there with the 3 buttons... For example you could have a very stiff, aggressive map for wide fast roads and a looser map for narrow twisty sections, so you switched instantly as you turned off onto the other section of the stage.  On our car, when the option button was being used, a yellow light came on next to the gear indicator, so you always knew what you were on.

Drivers and engineers regularly discussed their diff maps and made frequent changes to them.  I had the habit of noting down every change I had asked for, on a regular basis, which eventually allowed me to review the latest map at home and plan how I would have it eventually modified on the next rally.

The main things I was looking for, as a driver, was stability and feeling for the car.  I needed to feel and know that if I hit the brakes at speed, the car would lock the diffs to help prevent wheel lock, give a stable hard braking and especially to give some feel for the grip.  Then, still under braking, I steered the car into corners and I needed those diffs to open up just enough to relieve the inherent understeer that locked diffs give.

When I approached the apex of the corner, I came on throttle and I needed a smooth transition from brake mode to acceleration mode, which did not upset the car, but applied strong pressure on the front diff to help pull the car into the apex, a relatively strong and specific pressure on the center diff to keep the car neutral, a smooth rising pressure on the rear diff for traction but not too much so as to prevent excessive oversteer.  All that depended on the speed of the corner.

If the settings were right, I could jump from brake right onto full throttle, and do it as an "ON/OFF" manner because that was my style.  The beauty about active diffs was you could adjust for ON/OFF style or progressive throttling style, or whatever.  The car obeyed.

Once at corner exit and the steering wheel came back straight, a stronger steady pressure was applied for maximum traction.  At higher speeds that pressure was fading because otherwise your car would start "looking" which meant any little irregularity on the road would pull you to it, making it difficult to keep the car steady.

All these varying pressures had to be adjusted to be smooth and transitional between the different modes, that were used, which were an "accel" mode for "on throttle", a "brake" mode when pushing the brake pedal and a "decel" mode when "lifting throttle", without braking.

These 3 main modes were intertwined with others like the "throttle delays" which were called accel TPS and decel TPS (TPS for throttle position sensor).  This was an adjustment you could specify so the modes would not change immediately at the slightest variation of the throttle pedal angle.  As drivers are often playing a bit with the pedal, I had some ~25-35% delays which meant the modes did not switch before my pedal angle changed by X% down from full throttle or up from zero throttle.  There was also a "steering angle" input which was basically in charge of reducing the diff pressures accordingly in corners.  You would specify the reduction in % of the base pressure.  Finally, the foot pressure input, on the brake pedal, activated the brake mode at a certain amount of foot pressure so as to prevent modes switching when I just tapped on it for minor speed adjustments.  Note that you could adjust the total throttle pedal travel, however you wanted.  In this car, I appreciated the pedal travel, which was rather short and suited my on/off style.

Basically, the 3 diffs could be directed in two main distinct ways, or with a combination of the both.

1.  From the TPS system which meant you adjusted your "on throttle/off throttle" only with a throttle position setting, varying constantly the pressures as the pedal moved, which was very basic because this did not take into consideration how much wheel spin difference there was from one wheel to the other.

2. The Accel and Decel modes, a system relying on the constant calculations of differences of spin between the wheels.  It was represented in the software as a graph of speed expressed in km/h (kph) versus wheel spin differences which was expressed in % of slip.  In this system the computer used a certain set of figures when you were accelerating and another set when decelerating, which you specified in the software on 2 distinct graph tables.

The latter system was mainly used for center diff and front diff while the TPS was often used on the rear.  I did not really like using the TPS on the front and center diffs.  I believe this would have been ok for a "smooth on the pedal" kind of driver.  For me, it made the car too loose and nervous to drive,

We had a slip versus speed mode on front and center diffs with a TPS mode on the rear.

I noted with experience that the TPS system had a tendency to wear the tires more than the speed versus slip system, which for me was important as you know from Chapter 8 that I liked to run softer tire compounds whenever there was the slightest opportunity.  As the slip versus speed system was constantly adjusting the diff lock if there was excessive wheel slip, the power was spread better over all 4 wheels, which in turn meant that the tire wear was evenly spread and you could push the limits as far as using soft compounds was concerned.  As a note on that aspect, I had noticed back in 2004 and 2003, when we were using diff maps that were much too loose, that I had huge differences of wear and I often came back to service with completely destroyed tires.  At the time I had not understood yet how to "read" tire wear and make conclusions from it and apply it to diff maps.  I understood this later with experience.    

On the slip versus speed system, the software basically allowed you to fill numbers on a 2 axis graph table with % slip vs kph scales.  These scales could be adjusted and were very important.  On my first maps, the scales were not adjusted well, which rendered whatever map was in there ineffective to a certain degree.  As an example, the standard setting I had in was a scale of slip % going from 0% to 100%, in 5% then 10% increments which made absolutely no sense because, as we learned with experience, most of the action was happening in the first 10% of slipping.  So a good slip scale started from 0% and went up to 10%, not 100%. 

It was hard for me to imagine, but a 5% difference in slip betwen 2 wheels was huge for a rally car.  So our initial customer maps, adjusted with scales going to 100%, were only really activating on the first line or two of the table.  All the rest (10,20,30%...) never came into play which rendered most of the map pressures useless and therefore the diff was basically running the same pressures all the time.

On tarmac, for example, the center diff accel mode had stronger pressures at lower speeds which gradually decreased in a very specific way as speed went up.  This part was the key to the tarmac map.  Drivers are usually on throttle from the apex onwards or even before and this part of the map determined the way you exited the corner. 

The center diff decel map had lower but needed pressures for keeping a steady car when going off and on throttle in long corners where you didn't go in brake mode.  You didn't want a zero pressure center diff in the middle of a corner as that would have spun your car out instantly.  In Corsica 2005, while in a 30+ km stage, my hydraulic pump was leaking.  I was gradually losing pressure and as the stage went on and the pump had more and more difficulty keeping the pressures up, I could feel how, in every other corner, the car was becoming more and more oversteering, until I really had to slow down the speed because I just could not keep the back under control anymore in corners. 

The brake mode was activating on all diffs, independently, when I pushed past a set amount of foot pressure on the pedal.  At that point I had strong pressures in the front and center diffs.  Extremely important for a driver's confidence, that one, as I explained in The Polish Affair.  

The ever important steering angle reduction on brakes was an awesome invention.  The pressures were smoothly reduced on all diffs, independently, depending on how much steering angle you gave.  This is what made the car turn!   

The rear diff was usually set with a TPS map hence throttle pedal angle.  There was a brake mode when you pushed on the brake pedal over a set amount of foot pressure.  It was a rather strong pressured TPS to make sure the car got maximum traction on the rear but in a rather progressive fashion so as not to have violent reactions.  There was also a left foot braking mode which I never used.  I did left foot brake but never at the same time as I gave gas.  I believe this mode was specially designed for drivers who pushed both pedals simultaneously.

Still on tarmac, the front diff was a slip versus speed map with low pressure across the decel graph, so as to make sure there would be absolutely no understeer when in long corners and coming off throttle for speed adjustments.  Very important, that one.  

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

TRIVIA winner is Brun0! Well done

The answer was Ouninpohja!  I learned from an anonymous poster that it has also Dani on it.  Ok, thanks I did not know that, but it makes sense.  

I figured Toni's name is on the rock since his crash in it with the Mitsubishi GrA car ?  Can one of our readers maybe confirm this is indeed what happened ?


In which Neste Rally Finland special stage, can you find the following rock?

-It is huge, and lies on the left hand side of the stage.
-There is Toni Gardemeister's name "Toni" written on it.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Chapter 14: Physical & mental prep

A very important part of a driver's obligations is his physical and mental prep. 

The psychological prep, as far as I was aware of, was completely absent in the team.  Unless the guys took care of it privately, I have not heard of any coaching or assistance of any type being made available to the drivers in 2005.  I guess the reason for this was budget, mainly, and perhaps also a lack of belief in it's importance from the management's point of view. 

Drivers need a strong psyche and this can be influenced by the surroundings.  If you want to perform and by that I mean going to the limit on a regular basis, you need to feel that you have a whole team which is backing you, no matter what.  You need to know that everything is done in the interest of supplying you with what is needed to accomplish the results.  Teams are potential havens for jealousy, mistrust, misunderstandings, conflicts of interest etc.  There are many people working around you and your car.  An insignificant problem can easily upset a whole equilibrium. 

I am referring for example to stupid little things like having your technicians argue over something during service, and then later you finding out before a stage start that one of your wheels is loose, because the guy forgot to torque wrench it.  Paranoia settles in quickly... Next thing you know you will be thinking more about checking your wheels before a stage rather than your driving in the first corners, which determines your confidence for the rest of the stage.

There is a routine that needs to settle in as you start competing.  Everything has to be sorted so the driver has only one thing to think about: driving.
A factory driver, when integrated in a proper team, will have a core of trustful and compatible people surrounding him.  These persons will be, for example, the dedicated car engineer, the co-driver, the car technicians, the gravel crew/weather crew/tire advisor, the co-ordinator, the doctor, the trainer, the press officer.  In short these persons have his full trust and form a psychological bench that he can rest on.  Stability is key for a driver.  Teams who shuffle personnel around from year to year are not doing any good for the driver's mental.

On an other note, one must not forget the fact that we are human and we do in fact get scared on stages.  Back in Finland 2005, when I started to push more than before, I was wondering if it was normal to be afraid.  Was I supposed to be afraid?  So I asked Marcus Grönholm if it was normal that I almost "pissed my pants" on the stages.  He said yes, it was normal.  So I concluded that, if somebody tells me he is not scared either he is going slow, he is crazy or a liar.

The fact was that, the level of driving in the championship was so intense, the only way to know that you were on the limit was if you repeatedly scared yourself on stages.  Gardemeister's co-driver told me the same.  We were often discussing how difficult it was and how afraid we were because of the risk amount we had to take.  It made me wonder how someone can keep up the risk taking to end up 6th or 5th?  How long are you able to keep it up if results don't follow to motivate you?  How long until you give up and ease off, without even knowing?  It takes a very strong mental state to be able to push your limits and keep pushing especially if there are no results following.    

Physical training, in the team during the 2005 season, was somewhat taken care of.  To resume, it went like this:  Some weeks before Monte Carlo we were all invited to stay at the team headquarters for some days.  There was a trainer who took charge of us, between the time that we spent in the workshop, or doing work with engineers or the co-ordinator.  We did some cardio training and learnt about diet, effects of heat and dehydration, etc.  The guy was a wealth of knowledge and very pleasant to work with.  Unfortunately he was not present on all events.  All in all I think he showed up for half of the events, due to budget reasons, it seemed.  We were instructed by the boss to train by ourselves and I remember he regularly asked us if we had been running on mornings.  He wanted us to go jogging before recce starts and each start of legs.  That's it.

Concerrning this subject the most memorable moment I can recall came in Cyprus, after the long marathon-like stage that we ran on the first day.  That stage was almost 50km long and we did it twice.  I believe it took us close to 40 minutes to run through it and trust me when I say this, it was a hell of an effort.  The heat was the main problem, obviously.  The low average speed and therefore little air coming in through the roof vent meant that our Nomex suits and long underwear were keeping us very, very hot.  The fact that the stage was twisting and turning again and again and again was a nightmare, adding to this the never stopping bumps, stones deep ruts, dust...  I was getting Kresta's splits, as we were fighting for a top 6 place at that moment.  I heard that I was down, by close to 30 seconds if I recall properly, before the last 15 km's.

I don't know who to credit for this one, I think it was taken on Cyprus shakedown cause the car still looks quite good...
I was starting to get seriously tired.  By tired I mean "passing-out" tired.  I reacted to the split and pushed harder, concentrating on taking deep breaths, focusing on every single corner as if it was the last one.  We finished the stage by catching the time lost and gaining some bunch of seconds on top of it.  The fact that he was apparently pushing hard in the first 3 quarters of that stage meant that he had worn his tires badly, while I had not.  When he was running out of thread in the end part it really cost him a lot of time. 

I arrived at the stage end completely finished.  As soon as I cleared the stop control I climbed out of the car and laid down on the ground, pouring some water over my head.  I have never felt so cooked in my life.  The heat, the driving, the hard push in the last km's has been the toughest effort I have ever made.

I would say that Finland is tough psychologically but Cyprus or Turkey and Acropolis were by far the toughest rallies all aspects concerned.  I was wondering if I was fit enough, so one day I asked Carlos Sainz if it was normal to be dead tired after a rally like that.  He replied that he was also completely cooked and it usually took him a week to recover.  It was similar for me.  Anyway, I think I lacked some physical prep.  Then again you can never do too much physical prep.