Catalunya: Michelin preview

2002 World Rally Championship Round 4: Catalunya Rally (March 22nd-24th 2002) All set for another asphalt thriller Less than two weeks after its emphatic 1-2-3-4 finish in Corsica, Michelin moves on to Lloret de Mar for the second clear...

2002 World Rally Championship
Round 4: Catalunya Rally (March 22nd-24th 2002)

All set for another asphalt thriller

Less than two weeks after its emphatic 1-2-3-4 finish in Corsica, Michelin moves on to Lloret de Mar for the second clear asphalt showdown of the year. Invincible on the French tyre manufacturer's products both in the wet and on the dry on the Mediterranea n island, Peugeot will no doubt have the wind in its sails in Catalunya, especially since its cars collected a valuable 1-2 result there this time twelve months ago. Yet despite these promising pointers, there will be no place for complacency this weekend in either the Michelin or the Peugeot camps. For not only do both firms know only too well that each outing represents a fresh challenge, the heroes of the French round -- namely Panizzi (1st), Gronholm (2nd) and Burns (3rd) -- will also face a long list of rivals determined to avenge their Corsican fate, not to mention the added presence of Citroën-Michelin, the only make to have contested the 206 WRC's asphalt supremacy in recent months.

To imagine that a repeat of Peugeot-Michelin's Corsican hat trick will be a simple formality in Catalunya this weekend would be to overlook the exceptionally high quality of the field in world class rallying today. For while it's clear that Peugeot's charg ing trio will want to be as uncatchable on the fast, flowing Catalan stages as they were in France, they are fully aware that -- to coin one of motorsport's most frequently cited phrases -- their opponents will not have been standing still.

At the same time, just as the punishing tracks of Greece have little in common with the roller-coaster ride of Rally Finland, it is important not to confuse the asphalt of Corsica with that of Catalunya, which itself can be split between the notoriously ab rasive stages of the south and those in the north.

In preparing for the Spanish round, Michelin has once again treated the terrain with its usual respect. To match its specific demands, the evolutions of its celebrated Michelin N 'FP' -- unbeaten on asphalt in eleven outings -- have been carefully fine-tuned in close collaboration with the chassis engineers of the its manufacturer-partners. Indeed, compared with Corsica, the ranks of the latter will see the addition of another team with a proven capacity to win on tarmac -- Citroën-Michelin. With the presence of the likes of Philippe Bugalski and Sebastien Loeb behind the wheel of the Xsara WRC, Peugeot, Panizzi and the rest are going to have their work cut out if they are to take the laurels on Sunday afternoon!

On the technical front
An insider's view

In modern rallying, optimisation of the performance curve over the full length of a hot, abrasive asphalt stage calls for advanced tyre technology, close collaboration between the chassis and tyre engineers and keen driver sensitivity. But once the stage h as started, the latter is alone in dealing with the inevitable phenomenon of increasing tyre pressure. For although current technology makes it possible, no data is yet available on his dashboard to guide him. In the meantime, a chance meeting with a molec ule of air has given us a rare insider's view into asphalt rallying, a memorable experience we are glad to share!

"I was the guest of a rally champion for 35km of total folly""

How did your involvement in rallying begin?
"By pure chance. One minute I was basking in the warm Costa Brava sunshine, the next I was being sucked through a compressor. Everything suddenly went black. Thankfully, I wasn't alone and a fellow molecule of air soon brought me up to speed: we were captu red inside a World Rally Championship tyre."

Amazing! So, how was the sport from so close up?
"Quite restful to begin with -- so long as the stage hadn't started, although it did get quite cramped when the tyre was inflated to its working pressure. Then I heard '5-4-3-2-1' and suddenly all hell was let loose! I was submitted to centrifugal and latera l forces, whisked and tossed about helplessly in all directions. With the wheel rotating nearly 17 times a second at 120kph, it was one mega big-dipper ride, I can tell you. It also got extremely hot in there; more than 100C. If I'd been a molecule of wat er, I would have boiled. And the hotter it got, the higher the pressure climbed and the more it got cramped. It really was a relief when it stopped!"

You can't have understood much of what was happening?
"Too right. However, by a strange coincidence, one of my fellow 'captives' had already been through an identical experience. In Corsica, I believe. He told me we were inside a Michelin asphalt tyre, a very sophisticated piece of technology. I was told how, during testing prior to the rally, the engineers had concentrated on perfecting the car's ground link by harmonising the way its suspension and tyres work together. Careful set-up work allows them to obtain the biggest 'contact patch' possible to optimise grip and transmission of power to the ground. Indeed, maintaining an optimal contact patch as the pressure inside the cover increases -- inevitably -- as the temperature climbs is the n1 key to performance and demands total mastery of the tyre technologies involved: compound, construction, form -- Once the stage has started, it's the skill and sensitivity of the driver that does the rest. Fascinating stuff!"

Did you actually get to see the driver?
"Yes, but very briefly. Some time after the first stage, the car came to a halt and there was movement close by. Then I spotted a beam of light; the valve cap had been removed. Through the hole I caught a fleeting glimpse of the driver's eye as he clicked on a pressure gauge. Incredible. I mean how many motorists bother checking their pressures more than once or twice a year? Yet here was one of rallying's superstars taking the time himself to deflate his tyres for a few dozen kilometres in order to benefit from the biggest contact patch possible at the start of the next stage..."

You mean there was more to come?
"Absolutely! A few molecules profited from the driver's act to escape, but I stayed inside, in the dark. And then we were off again. I was the guest of a rally champion for another 35km of total folly, although I must admit I was beginning to get a taste f or it. At following service, however, the valve cap came off again and a Michelin fitter set me free. The next day, by chance, I floated past the finish podium. My driver was too busy spraying the champagne to pay any attention to me. Even so, I was proud of the small part I had played in his success. And who knows? Maybe I'll get another chance to go rallying one day. Here, in Catalunya, or elsewhere. Who can say?

Michelin has a total staff of 24 for the Tour of Corsica. The total number of covers available for the event is 3,860 carried in 9 semi-trailer workshops. All are fitted with Michelin's ATS system (Appui Temporaire Souple).

The 2002 Catalunya Rally in brief:
Rally headquarters: Lloret de Mar
Total distance*: 1,949 km
Total 'stage' distance*: 395 km
Surface type: aspahlt
Number of 'stages'*: 18

After a so-called ceremonial start on Thursday evening in Lloret de Mar, its traditional host town, the 2002 Catalunya Rally will visit the same regions as previous years, with a leg centred on Tarragona and two based on the small Catalan town of Manlieu.

The order in which they will be tackled is the most notable change, with two loops of the highly abrasive stages south of Barcelona kicking off the action on Friday, including two runs through the formidable 'Escadel' (48km). The first leg promises to be p articularly tough inasmuch as it accounts for close to 45% of the total stage distance (176km from 395km)!

Miscellaneous information

Michelin's WRC partners on the Catalunya Rally:

Philippe Bugalski/Jean-Paul Chiaroni (F/F) ; Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena (F/MC) ; Thomas Radstrom/Denis Giraudet (S/F)

Richard Burns/Robert Reid (GB/GB); Marcus Gronholm/Timo Rautiainen (FIN/FIN); Gilles Panizzi/Herve Panizzi (FIN/FIN)

Francois Delecour/Daniel Grataloup (F/F); Alister McRae/David Senior (GB/GB)

Armin Schwarz/Manfred Hiemer (D/D); Freddy Loix/Sven Smeets (B/B); Tomasz Kuchar/Maciej Szczepaniak (PL/PL)

Kenneth Eriksson/Tina Thorner (S/S); Toni Gardemeister/Paavo Lukander (FIN/FIN); Roman Kresta/Jan Tomanek (CZ/CZ)

Harri Rovanpera/Risto Pietilainen (FIN/FIN)


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About this article
Series WRC
Drivers Freddy Loix , Richard Burns , Harri Rovanpera , Gilles Panizzi , Marcus Gronholm , Daniel Grataloup , François Delecour , Alister McRae , Sébastien Loeb , Tomasz Kuchar , Armin Schwarz , Philippe Bugalski , Hervé Panizzi , Timo Rautiainen , Thomas Radstrom , Kenneth Eriksson , Robert Reid , David Senior , Tina Thorner , Risto Pietilainen , Toni Gardemeister , Roman Kresta , Denis Giraudet , Paavo Lukander , Sven Smeets , Jan Tomanek
Teams Citroën World Rally Team