Monday, April 11, 2011

Chapter 6: Analysis, paralysis

In rally, and generally in motorsport, you are surrounded by lots of people.  There is the family, the sponsors, the team members, the technicians, tire specialists, engineers, etc.  If everything goes well, nobody breaks your balls.  If everything does not go well, for whatever reason, then out of all this bunch of people, there just has to be someone who just can't avoid trying to teach you how to drive. 

If Marcus Grönholm comes up to me, between stages, and tells me my lines were nice but I was braking a bit early in places, you can bet I'm gonna listen to him.  If a laptop engineer, on the other hand, comes up to me and says: "Antony, I was looking at your data are driving too fast into brake too brake too are too much on/off on the're steering too much...change gear earlier..." you can bet I'm going to take it a bit differently.  As I see it, everybody has his specialty.  In a team, a driver drives, it's his business.  An engineer, well, doesn't drive.

When you are having some trouble, like in the example I am about to describe, it is very important that you trust what your gut tells you.  You and your co-driver are the ones out there, driving.  If there is somebody you can turn to, it's your co-driver and no one else.  He is the only one you can trust to give you some feedback of what he/she sees you doing in the car.

Back in some rally, which I believe was New Zealand 2004, a few kilometers into some special stage the brake pedal started to become soft.  There was nothing particular about it, just that the first couple cm of pedal travel were soft...then, little by little, the pedal became softer and softer until it reached the floor.  Soon I had to pump the pedal with my left foot in every straight, just so that I could build up enough pressure in the system for braking in the next corner.  A freaking nightmare.  This was such a effort I almost collapsed at the stage finish.  Somehow, the brakes were overheating.  Luckily I had had the exact same experience with the Corolla WRC a couple years back. 

On the phone with my chief car technician:  "I am losing the brakes 8 km into the stage...It's the same like I had before with probably need to change the master cylinder...."

My Toyota had had the exact same thing in the rallye du Var, back in 2001.  We changed pads, discs, bled the brakes, again and again, till we were out of spares....without any luck.  It was only once the car got back to the workshop, when the technician took the master cylinder apart that he noticed there was some damage which prevented the piston from returning to it's original position, not letting any new fluid in the system.  I did the whole rallye du Var with this problem and there was no way this was happening again!

Of course it did not take long before the first people tried to convince me it was something else.  Changing the master cylinder, to be fair, is a pain in the arse job.  So every possibility will be explored before that one.

"We have to bleed the brakes...probably some air in the system..."


"The pads are worn...we need new pads..."


"Change his discs!"

And finally, my personal favorite:

"You are braking too much...we can see it on the data!"

I believed it.  So I went back out.  Tried to brake how they told me... A bloody joke.  Did a complete other loop without brakes.  So then I got angry, and demanded the master cylinder be changed.  My lead car technician, very good guy, decided to take it upon himself and did the job in 20 minutes, a tough job on this car. 

Problem solved.  Had my brakes back.  Thank you.

My gut was telling me all along that it wasn't me.  Fact is in today's WRC car, the brakes are very, very hard to overheat.  Our DS3000 FERODO pads were pre-heated by the factory, so unless your discs were brand new, no need to do any pre-heating at all on the road-section.  I remember stages like the Bastellica stage in Corsica, 40 km of which the 15 last were steep downhill, without even a hint of a brake problem. 

Trust your first gut feeling.  There is a saying, that I believe in, which goes like: "analysis, paralysis".

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