Thursday, April 7, 2011

Chapter 3: The Polish affair

I love Poland.  I went there once and I fell in love.  What is it about Poland? Well the first thing I liked was the people's warmth and welcoming.  I don't know if it's the whole "ex-eastern block" thing or what.  The country is pretty too, at least what I saw of it.  I went there for the 2002 Polski rally that was taking place in the south somewhere close to the border with Czech Republic.   Oh and the roads are interesting too!

When you drive them with a rally car, it's a different story.  This rally is SCARY!  And when I say scary, on a scale of 1 to 10, try 11.  And if it rains, oh my, then you better bring your diapers with you. 

To give you an idea about it, in a nutshell, the stages were covered with an old tarmac, rather worn and slippery.  They are winding, wide, fast roads, lined with trees left and right.  Sometimes you would get a chicane, to slow down the suicide a little bit, and on it went.

So we had just been to the ERC round in Bulgaria and my Corolla WRC had suffered a hydraulic pump failure.  We had some problems to fix the car in time so we made a quick, spur of the moment kinda deal, with the Jolly Club team from Czech Republic.  They were normally running a yellow 99 spec Focus for Janusz Kulig but he changed over to another team for Poland.  So we rented the Jolly Club Focus for the rally. 

Timing was really tight for Jolly Club but they managed to get the car ready just before the start.  So I quickly shook it down behind the hotel up and down some road a couple times.

Apparently, nobody but the official engineers had access to the cars electronics via special software, so the private Fords were all followed by official personel and they sent us a guy for the rally.  This Focus had a front and center active differential, which was news for me cause my Corolla just had a front active diff.

So away we went.  First stage, ok. Second stage, rain.  Here I come, tires hot, flat in 6th gear between the trees to the first chicane...  I hit the brakes, hard.  This is when my life suddenly started flashing in front of my eyes.  Gemma and I found ourselves broadside in a snap.  It happened so fast, the rear wheels locked up, as if I had just pulled the handbrake, at 180 kph.

This really scared the crap out of me.  And it happened again and again.  So I started messing with the brake balance luck.

On the phone with service...."ok, we'll look into it at service"....

Remember the drivers handbook, point n°9 ?

  "Get your manager or a close person to keep an ear open and an eye out for things."

I had my dad asking questions...Soon he came to ask questions to the official engineer, in charge of diffs and electronics. 

Turns out the guy was an electrician, who had no clue about anything regarding programming a car's diff.  I actually saw the computer screen, with zero's across the whole board!  Where pressures are expressed in bars and there should be dozens of numbers ranging from 0 to 20 bars, there was "0" across the whole thing. 


This meant that every time I hit the brakes, the diff was free (I think there was some pressure on throttle cause the problem was only on braking).  The Fords have huge discs on rear wheels, and if your center diff is free as you brake, it's a one way ticket to Disney World that you need, not a racing license.

So eventually we got things sorted, to be fair it wasn't the guy's fault, he just did what he was told.  He was actually nice and we managed to get the car under control.   I climbed back up to second position, behind Kulig. 

Then I puctured on the last stage and dropped back down to fifth. 

Overall I think this rally was an amazing experience.  But the wild brakings in the wet have scared me for life.  I was never able to fully unleash the attack again on wet tarmac.

My question is this:  if the software which controls the car electronics is secret, and can only be used by official personel, what are they trying to achieve? 

I don't know about others but as I see it,  when the guy opens the laptop for the first time and sees this car has zero pressure across the screen he should ring the bell!  "Hello, Antony! You have no map on your center diff, let's do something..."

So my first experience with the Ford was a winner.

Other question is why did we make a deal with them after that for the WRC?  I guess it's all about context.  I see it all clearly now but back then so much was going on. 




  1. I'm really enjoying this 'saga'. Keep up with the good writing!

  2. did you try switching the diffs on?? its a common mistake even today!

  3. Yup, the problem was the map was not programmed right.

  4. Good stuff! You are one lucky mofo to be able to race at such a high level. I rarely read blogs, but this has me hooked!

  5. Hello Antony! I stopped following World championship a long time ago and I hate most blogs, but your blog is fascinating! Thanks for sharing what's going on behind the curtains! If you need some more photos from 2002 Rally of Poland, take a look at my photo gallery. I remember very well this rainy event! :)[desc]=+DESC&pg_[ex_path]=63&modex=pokaz&T[id]=111

    Jarek from Poland