No rest for BP-Ford as winter double-header moves to Norway
Just four days after crossing the finish line in Sweden, BP-Ford World Rally Team is back in action in neighbouring Norway for the third round of the FIA World Rally Championship. Rally Norway (15 - 18 February) is one of two rallies making its championship debut this season, and the 250km journey from the Swedish city of Karlstad across the border to the Norwegian event's base of Hamar makes it natural to pair the events on consecutive weekends.
Norway becomes the 28th country to host a WRC event and the speed tests north of Oslo will be new to BP-Ford drivers Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen and team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen. Neither Finnish pairing has competed in Norway before, although both are firmly into a winter rally mindset after finishing first and third respectively in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Cars in Sweden's snow and ice-bound forests.
Conditions in Norway will be virtually identical with the country in the grip of a typical Scandinavian winter. Temperatures are forecast to dip well below -20ºC in the mountain region of Lillehammer where the second and third legs are based. A successful candidate rally was held here in 2006 when the roads, most of which will be used again this year, were narrower, slower and more technical than Sweden.
Despite the harsh environment of the frozen Norwegian countryside, BP-Ford's drivers will find incredible grip in the snow and ice due to the effect of the tungsten-tipped studs protruding from the BFGoodrich tyres on their Focus RS cars. The narrow tyres focus the pressure onto a small area of studs in contact with the road. That increases the force on the studs as they bite through the snow into the icy surface to offer grip almost equivalent to driving on gravel.
Thirty-nine-year-old Grönholm, lying second in the championship after victory in Sweden, believes lack of knowledge of the Norwegian special stages will not be a disadvantage. "The only things I know about the stages are what I have been told. But I'm not alone in that. There are virtually no drivers with previous experience of these roads. Even Petter Solberg admits that he does not know much about them and he is Norwegian!" he said.
"We all have two passes during the recce to learn them as well as we can. It will be difficult for both myself and Timo but we are in the same position as the other drivers so there is no disadvantage to us. It means we have to be extremely precise during the recce. It will be important to be 100 per cent accurate when we make the notes during the first pass so that we can check them during the second time through. But I enjoy winter rallies so I'm looking forward to Norway," he added.
Hirvonen, lying third in the championship, has never previously set foot in Norway and also acknowledged the hard work to be done during the recce. "We must learn the roads quickly and if we do a good, thorough recce then we will be fine," he said. "It will probably be harder for Jarmo than for me because he has to write a complete set of pace notes from a blank sheet of paper and then spend a lot of time during the evenings finalising them for the rally," he said.
"Conditions should be very similar to those we experienced in Sweden. As the rally is further north the temperatures will be even colder and there could be more snow on the roads. In winter conditions it is the studs that provide the grip under both acceleration / braking and cornering and I let them do the work and slide the car around more, which is great fun," he added.
* BP-Ford will use BFGoodrich's g-Force ice tyres. The single pattern is available with three stud options -- long studs for snow, normal studs for full ice and short length for ice and frozen gravel.
* There are 11 Ford Focus RS World Rally Cars entered among the 81 entries.
* The rally is the opening event in the seven-round Fiesta SportingTrophy International. Five Group N Fiesta ST cars are entered with the championship winner stepping up to the FIA Junior Championship in 2008.
The event is based in Hamar, 125km north-east of Oslo, which also hosts the single service park at the spectacular 9,000 capacity indoor Viking Ship stadium, built to host the speed skating events during the 1994 Winter Olympics. After a Thursday evening ceremonial start, the opening day's action takes competitors south-east to the forests of Kongsvinger for the longest leg of the event. The second day is centred in the mountain region of Lillehammer, host city of the Olympics, and includes a short test in the town of Hamar itself. The last leg repeats four of the second day tests and offers a real sting in the tail as the final Elverum stage is 44.28km, one of the longest of the season. The Mountain stage, run in both the second and third legs, at Sjusjøen (Seven Lakes) provides some of the most spectacular scenery of the season. Drivers tackle 18 stages in total, covering 355.99km in a route of 1109.57km.