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.