WRC

Cyprus: Michelin preview

2002 World Rally Championship Round 5: Cyprus Rally (April 19th-21st 2002) Springtime on gravel Five rounds into 2002's fourteen-round campaign, this weekend sees the World Rally Championship's stars get their first taste of the year of ...

2002 World Rally Championship
Round 5: Cyprus Rally (April 19th-21st 2002)

Springtime on gravel

Five rounds into 2002's fourteen-round campaign, this weekend sees the World Rally Championship's stars get their first taste of the year of competition on gravel, the surface that continues to make up the backbone of the series. After the early domination of Peugeot-Michelin, how likely is this change of surface to mark a watershed in the season that will see the French squad's rivals snatch back some of the limelight? Or, on the contrary, does the gravel form of the 206 WRC and its Michelin tyres at the e nd of 2001 (victories for Marcus Gronholm in Finland, Australia and Great Britain) point to a prolongation of the French machine's winning run on precisely those events where it suffered this time last year? It certainly won't provide all the answers, but the imminent showdown on the historic island of Cyprus could well provide an initial clue as to which way the scales are likely to tip--

Cyprus, Argentina, Greece, Kenya, Finland-- Following the cocktail of wintry events and asphalt encounters that marked the opening phase of the 2002 World Championship, this weekend sees the series switch to a run of five consecutive gravel rallies that wil l take us well past the series' midpoint. The strategic importance of the months ahead in both title chases could hardly therefore be clearer.

For Peugeot-Michelin, it will above all be a case of attempting to succeed on the very rallies where the latest evolution of the 206 WRC was betrayed by teething problems in 2001. Yet despite its failure to make any sort of inroads on its last visits to Li massol, Cordoba and Delphi, a podium for the car on the Safari followed by an emphatic win in Finland reversed that negative trend, allowing the French carmaker and tyre company to clinch the Manufacturers' crown the following November. This time round, ho wever, a healthy points harvest from the five events to come could well put a third successive title within realistic reach.

Having said that, there is still a long, long way to go. Indeed, in Cyprus, Peugeot's opponents will all be fired up to profit from the island's twisty stages to stem the domination of the 'Silver Bullet', as British observers have tagged the 206. In the c amps of Ford (winner in Cyprus with Michelin in 2000 before repeating its success eleven months ago), Hyundai-Michelin, Mitsubishi-Michelin, Subaru and Skoda-Michelin, the emphasis will surely be on 'attack' as they bid to bridge the already significant ga p that has built up in the current standings and to get themselves back into the championship chase before the series returns to asphalt, in Germany, at the end of August.

On the technical front

TYRES ON THE LOOSE

Run exclusively on ice, snow and asphalt (cold, hot, wet and dry), the opening phase of the 2002 championship has seen Michelin's partners emerge on top of both the Manufacturers' and Drivers' points tables. April will see the first gravel contest of the y ear take place in Cyprus where drivers face a menu of twisty, hard-wearing mountain tracks with repeated hard acceleration out of tight corners. For the tyres, coping with wheelspin promises to be one of the main keys to a top performance. In the weeks bef ore the start, we were fortunate enough to be able to chat briefly with one of the Michelin tread blocks that will be in the front line on the Mediterranean island--

"I'll come crashing down to the ground perhaps 1,000 times a kilometre!"

- How do you see your role in Cyprus? "Along with hundreds of similar blocks, I make up the tread of a Michelin gravel tyre. As such, my mission will be twofold: to provide first class grip and to stand up to the expected wheelspin. On those parts of the route run directly on exposed bedrock, the relatively compact pattern we form has been developed to put as much rubber as possible onto the ground. However, the majority of the stages in Cyprus are run on an endless carpet of loose stones and rocks. I've heard it said our job will be like hikin g on scree. On the more flowing portions where we will be able to get a good head of steam on, my leading edge will help me slice through the loose top surface to seek out grip on the more stable base underneath. But one of the Cyprus Rally's main features is its exceptionally low average speeds resulting from its incredibly twisty stages. With drivers constantly re-accelerating hard out of the countless tight turns, I will doubtlessly have to deal with copious amounts of torque each time."

- This explains the risk of wheelspin you mentioned? "Exactly. As you can imagine, my DNA -- basically my compound, my form and my dimensions -- has been specifically developed as a function of the job I will be asked to do in Cyprus where the going is sure to be fairly punishing. The diameter of the tyre I be long to is 65cm. In normal running conditions, that means I will hit the ground something like 500 times every kilometre. On each impact, I will have to soak up a load of up to 100kg. In all modesty, I believe that's quite impressive for a few cubic centim etres of rubber. However, because of the low average speeds, drivers often have difficulty finding the ideal pace. It's not rare for them to feel they're not going quickly enough and, subconsciously almost, they up their speed-- When that happens, the pheno menon of wheelspin is obviously amplified and I've been told there'll be places where I'll come crashing down to the ground perhaps 1,000 times a kilometre!"

- I'll try and remember that when I'm watching from the stage-side-- "I hope so. You know, there are occasions when a little bit of sympathy, even for an apparently inanimate object like me, can win the day over raw passion when it's top spot you're aiming for. The other day I was thinking: to make sure they don't ask too m uch of their engines, drivers have a rev-counter fitted right in their line of sight. And should ever they get carried away, they have a rev-limiter that cuts in. Well I was wondering whether they couldn't have a wheelspin'ometre on the dashboard. Now that would change my life for sure!"

-michelin-

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Series WRC
Drivers Marcus Gronholm