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.

1 comment:

  1. P.s. I have edited chapter 17 in the part on tire compounds today. I checked my notes and it turns out the tire I took was a heavily cut 9 and not a 9(-) as previously posted. The result was all the same as the tire overheated anyway.