Alister McRae ready to debut Toyota Super 2000 after successful test
Alister McRae is ready to debut the Toyota Super 2000R rally car in the FIA World Rally Championship on this weekend's Wales Rally GB. The Scot has just completed a successful two-day test of the new car and is looking forward to returning to the WRC on the last event of the 2006 season.
This weekend's event will be only the second time a car built to the Super 2000 specification has completed on a WRC event and the first for the Toyota. The car has already proved extremely successful in the South African Rally Championship and McRae has recently been appointed development driver by RED, the UK rally team which has become worldwide agent for the car.
Making its competition debut on McRae's home event was a logical choice; although the final round of the WRC is not a qualifier for the Production car World Rally Championship, the category which S2000 car will run in from next year, there is always a strong Group N field. This will allow McRae, RED and Toyota to assess the car's competitiveness in one of the most representative environments in the WRC.
McRae and RED have a long-standing relationship, with the team running Alister throughout his campaign in the 2004 P-WRC. And Rally GB is an event which he has a huge amount of experience on, as well as considerable success. He won the Group N category of the event in 2004 and in 2001, was fourth overall in the Hyundai Accent WRC, the car's best result to date.
The car for this event was delayed in transit from South Africa and this meant that the team's two day test had to be quickly rescheduled. However, despite that, McRae was impressed with the Toyota S2000. "The car was very well put together when it arrived and the purpose of the test was to adapt the settings to suit the conditions here this weekend," said the Scot. "In South Africa, the rallies are driven blind, so the base set-up was more biased towards rear wheel-drive. Therefore, the majority of the work we did over the two days was adjusting the suspension and transmission set-up to generate more traction and grip, which you need for these stages. Overall, it's been a very good test -- we know that there is still some work to do but I feel we now have a very good base set-up for European gravel rallies and WRC events."
Buoyed by the success of the test and the competitiveness of the car, McRae is understandably looking forward to returning to the WRC on his home event. "I am really looking forward to this rally and competing on home soil again. The main objective for the weekend is to get as many miles as possible on the car and get some good feedback. The car certainly feels as quick, if not quicker, than Group N but until we get on the stages, we won't know for sure."
Despite not having competed in the WRC for almost two years, McRae is confident that he will be back on his usual pace quickly. "I've done a few events this year but not that many in the second half of the season. So it may take a stage or two to get my eye fully in but I think that once we've got a few kilometres under our belt, we'll be able to push hard as usual. The only real unknown is how the car behaves on the very high speed sections: the test was on tighter and twisty roads, where it worked very well but I'm sure the same will be the case on the faster parts.
"This is my first time in Super 2000 in competition as well as the car's first rally outside South Africa, so if we can be matching the pace at the head of Group N or even stretching it a little, I'll be very pleased."
Alister will be supported in his Wales Rally GB entry by GHI Contracts, a leading fit-out & refurbishment principal contractor, in both the corporate and public sectors. GHI Contract's Business Development Director, Ken Daggers explained the relationship; "We have been closely involved with the McRae family, Alister, Colin and Jimmy, for a number of years now," he said. "We have sponsored the McRae Stages Forest Rally in the past and have also taken a selection of guests on Alister's Corporate Rally Experience events, which we found extremely successful. So we were naturally keen to support Alister as he debuts the Toyota Super 2000 in the WRC. We are very familiar with both Alister's work and that of the RED team and are very excited at the prospect of being involved in a new category of car, such as Super 2000." He will also be supported by long-time partner John Lloyd, of Lloyd Helicopters, a name familiar to many rally fans as a competitor and supporter of British Rallying.
The final round of the 2006 WRC is the culmination of 12 months of competition across the globe. With three of the four championships already settled, subject to publication of the official results by the FIA (The WRC Drivers and Manufacturer's championships, as well as the P-WRC), the fourth, the Junior World Rally Championship will be decided this weekend. However, this means that there will be no team orders and no crews will be driving with anything other than victory in mind, ensuring the best competition over the southern Wales stages.
This year, the event takes place well into the UK winter, having run in September for the last two years. This means that the weather will play a large part in the proceedings, with winter conditions possible like rain, fog and ice all part of the event. The stages are located either on forestry roads or the military ranges at Epynt and the first day, Friday 1 December sees the crews tackle six stages in the Vale of Neath. The second leg, Saturday 2 December takes them to the Epynt military ranges while the third day, Sunday 3 December is based on the Brechfa forest to the west of Swansea. There is also a superspecial spectator stage in the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff on Saturday evening, which will run under the famous closed roof.