Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Chapter 13: Running order fables

So you want to run first on the road, or don't you?  Good question, sometimes being first can be very helpful and even more than you think. 

Back in the years 2003 to 2005, the system in place was to run in championship order on the first leg, then reverse the top 15 (priority 1 & 2 drivers, P1 and P2) on the following 2 legs.  It did not always happen that way.  Sometimes there were less than 15 P1's and P2's so they just reversed whatever the amount was.

I often found myself opening the road on various rallies, especially in 2003 and it went from being pure heaven, to total nightmare.

Tarmac was cool.  Being first on tarmac stages is a definite plus, especially on stages where you need to cut corners a lot.  The 1st guy has the benefit to choose his own lines, deciding if he wants to take that extra deep cut or not.  He also has a clean road, which in a rally like Deutschland makes a big difference.  Running behind can be tricky because, eventually, somebody who is a bit crazy will take these rough cuts and you will have no choice but to follow.  As corners are often blind, you may have "don't cut" in your notes and you'd come, commited, around the bend and suddenly see a bunch of crap across the tarmac, leaving you no choice but to dive in the ditch. 

Catalunya rally, with it's big cuts, was a special rally.  I noticed that I managed better times when the road did not allow cutting.  I am not sure why.  I believe the reason laid in the fact that our car was very low and when you cut corners, the car was literally skidding and bouncing off the tarmac edge in such a rough way that I just hadn't gotten used to it yet.  Many times, you would approach the corner, dive into the ditch with well over half the car width and the whole bottom would scrape on the tar.  Then, as you would exit the ditch and climb back on the tar, the speed would bounce the inner tires and half the car upwards.  This bump was sometimes throwing you across to the other edge.  At high speeds, as most of the stages are, trusting your suspension and judging that bounce was difficult.  I think I had work to do on that aspect.  Another phenomenon from this cut and bump was that the inner sidewall of the tires was scrapping on the tarmac edge and getting damaged.  A scary thing, to have a tire blow at those speeds was not something I looked forward to, so as I was a bit paranoid about that I paid particular attention to the inner sidewalls, something that was easy to forget about. 

Finland did not matter as much as rallies like Acropolis or Mexico, for example.  Since the big wide roads are usually rather clean and the little ones just tend to dig up, running first could only be a problem if you relied on seeing other people's lines and brake points.  Being second or third can be extremely useful, especially if the first guy is a very fast local driver. 

Following other people's lines and seeing where they brake, or don't brake, can be a real insight.  I benefitted from that on a number of occasions and once in an unconventional way.  I am not sure on which rally, but I remember I was running first and Marcus was second.  I asked him if he could check my lines and let me know, later, what he thought.  So, he was happy to help me out and when I went up to see him he had some nice pointers to give.  He said the lines were good but sometimes I was tapping the brakes and it was not necessary.  In a place like Finland, and especially if you come the first time, not tapping the brakes before blind crests followed by corners can be very hard.  I had an interesting experience when, back in 2005, I was second on the road, behind Kresta, on leg 3 and we had similar speeds on the first stage.  Then we came to the second one, a rather sandy and fast road which I had done before a couple of times.  I could tell, however, that he had not.  It was amazing to see how much different his driving style was.  I could see all his lines and braking points which were completely different from the previous one and very hesitant.  Anyway, I suddenly remembered my first time on this stage and it was very interesting for me to witness the differences from a driver's point of view.

I don't know who to credit for this pic, perhaps he or she will let me know...Anyway I think this was taken on Laukka just after a crest and down to a 3rd gear left corner.  I took the crest flat out, thinking I could brake after.  A bit too cheeky, I came much too quick, flicked the car sideways way before the corner and hoped for the best...  It turned out we just missed the apex and no harm done.  We had a few of those in Finland... until we ended down a ditch in Moksi Leustu.  Oops.
Lankamaa, for some reason, this being the first stage of the rally, I could never get it going there.  This was taken on the first junction by someone I would love to credit for and especially for the irony of the 40kph speed limit sign...Tricky stage.

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