This Week in Ford Racing February 8, 2000 World Rally Ford Martini duo aims to end Swedish tradition The Swedish International Rally (10 - 13 February) harbours one of the last great traditions of the FIA World Rally Championship in...
This Week in Ford Racing February 8, 2000
Ford Martini duo aims to end Swedish tradition
The Swedish International Rally (10 - 13 February) harbours one of the last great traditions of the FIA World Rally Championship in that no driver from outside the Nordic countries has won the event in its 49-year history. Nobody is more capable of ending that record than Ford Martini World Rally team drivers Carlos Sainz and co-driver Luis Moya and Colin McRae and partner Nicky Grist.
McRae regards this second round of the championship as his favourite rally. It was in 1992 that the Scot made his breakthrough at the sport's highest level, stunning the sport's experts by finishing second. Since then he has twice finished on the podium, in 1993 and 1997. Sainz has finished second for the past four seasons, never more than a minute behind the winner.
The four-day rally is the only true all-winter event in the series, thus favouring Scandinavian drivers. Snow and ice are the expected companion for the Ford Martini team's Focus World Rally Cars as they speed down the gravel-based roads. However, little snow this winter and temperatures hovering just below freezing point suggest ice will be the dominant factor next week.
"It's true that no driver outside Scandinavia has won this rally but it doesn't mean it's not possible for someone to do so," said 37-year-old Sainz. "We've been close to winning four times and last year we were less than 20 seconds behind the winner. So I think it will happen and I hope it will happen to me this year.
"I like the rally. The stages are very fast and I enjoy the challenge they offer to a driver. We tested in Sweden before Christmas and I had a good feeling in the snow so I think the Focus will be competitive. We have another test scheduled there before the rally which will give me a further chance to get used to the car in the snow," added Sainz.
McRae gave an insight into the art of driving quickly in the inhospitable conditions. "It's down to the studs. They provide the grip but because the tyres are not actually in direct contact with the ground, a driver experiences more of a floating sensation. The car moves around a lot more on studs and you have to remember to brake and set the car up a little bit earlier than you would normally.
"I like the rally because it's different. In full winter conditions it's great to drive on the snow but if there's not much snow it's not ideal because the gravel rips the studs from the tyres. The snowbanks alongside the road can be a big help because if you slide wide you will usually bounce back onto the road, but it's best to avoid clipping them because they drag a lot of speed from the car," he added.
The intense cold, with temperatures capable of falling as low as -20°C, forces team engineers to take special measures, as Ford Martini team director Malcolm Wilson explained.
"It's essential to keep the engine at the correct operating temperature which necessitates using radiator blanks on certain special stages to keep the engine temperature at the optimum range," he said. A more manual task falling to team technicians at service parks is to remove the build up of snow and ice under the wheel arches and the bottom of the car. Up to 100kg of snow can freeze solid onto the car during the course of three stages, adding almost 10% to the car's weight and partly negating the Focus' power and traction.
"On the Monte Carlo Rally the Focus cars were especially competitive on fast and flowing stages and most of the Swedish roads are like that. The performance of Thomas Rådström with the Focus in Sweden last year highlights that the car is well-suited to that type of stage. Since then Cosworth Racing has increased the engine's performance at high revs and that will bring benefits. Cosworth has also pinpointed the engine problem that stopped Colin in Monte Carlo as valve failure and that's been addressed," added Wilson.
As in the opening round of the championship in Monte Carlo, the importance of tyres in Sweden cannot be overstated and Ford Martini's tyre partner, Michelin, has won the rally 17 times in the last 19 seasons. But, paradoxically, it is the only rally where the tyres never touch the road surface because cars use studs and therefore the selection and quality of studs are the critical factors on the frozen gravel roads. Under new rules, teams can use only two patterns of tyres on non-asphalt championship rallies. Ironically this event requires only two - snow and ice - and it is the stud options over which drivers and tyre engineers spend their time in discussion. The ability of a stud to bite into ice is dictated by the distance it protrudes from the tread. For maximum grip, drivers require studs that stick out a long way from the tyre but that's when the tiny tungsten tips are most prone to damage and loss. The huge forces produced whenever a stud hits the ice require the tread blocks to be sufficiently robust to ensure the studs stay anchored. So the key to success is choosing the best compromise between performance and durability.
The event takes place over familiar Swedish Rally territory, using the fast and flowing stages around Hagfors and Borlange, north of the Karlstad base. The first leg, which loops anti-clockwise around Hagfors, includes a spectacular stage on the frozen lake at Torsby as well as a new test at Arvika rallycross circuit. The second leg is the most demanding of all with drivers spending almost 15 hours behind the wheel as the route heads north-east to Borlange before making the long return journey. The final day features another loop east of Hagfors. Competitors face 399km of stages in a total route of 1719km. The biggest test of all will come during the second leg when they tackle the feared Jutbo stage, almost 48km long and regarded as a real 'decider'. Intriguingly, the rally contains possibly the shortest day of world championship rallying ever. After the ceremonial start on Thursday evening in Karlstad, drivers cover just 700m before switching off their engines for the evening!