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.