CHRISTIAN LORIAUX - THE MAN BEHIND THE FORD FIESTA RS WRC
COLOGNE, 31 January 2011 - Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team technical director Christian Loriaux headed the team which developed the all-new Fiesta RS World Rally Car. Here the 44-year-old Belgian talks about some of the key issues surrounding the development of Ford's 2011 WRC challenger.
Q. Was it simply a matter of developing a new engine to turn the Ford Fiesta S2000 into the Ford Fiesta RS World Rally Car?
A. No. The Fiesta S2000 rally car provided a great base with which our engineers could work, but there was more development to undertake than just the engine. We had to ensure we were happy with the suspension and chassis, as well as developing the transmission. Essentially we had to be confident that the carryover parts from the S2000 would be strong enough to cope with the extra speed and power of a new-generation World Rally Car.
Q. What were the biggest challenges in developing the Fiesta RS WRC?
A. Developing the 1.6-litre Ford EcoBoost engine was a massive undertaking. Working with this engine and direct injection for the first time was complicated - it was a completely new animal for us. Other areas that were big tasks were the transmission, the gear ratios and fitting the cooling package around the engine. The new rules stipulate a 1200kg minimum weight limit and it has been difficult to get down to that figure. We received great support in the entire process from the product engineers at Ford of Europe and many of their suppliers.
Q. Was the development of the engine the biggest challenge of all?
A. Yes. Direct injection is a complex beast and we worked closely with Ford's road vehicle engineers and our engine tuner, Pipo Moteurs, in France, to make the best of their expertise. Because the new regulations demand forced injection for the first time, it was the first occasion that many of us had the opportunity to work with this in a competition engine.
Q. Are the engine regulations for 2011 taking the sport in the right direction?
A. Downsizing was most definitely the correct route to take, from both a manufacturer and a competition perspective. And retaining turbocharged units was also the way forward. These engines require drivers to use more revs and from a spectator's viewpoint they sound faster. Engine noise is an important part of the spectacle and these cars sound better.
Q. How many parts are common to both the S2000 and the RS WRC?
A. We obtained plenty of data from the S2000 which competed in the S-WRC and other championships last year. We re-evaluated every area and if we thought certain areas could be improved, we went ahead and did so. Apart from the roll cage and chassis there aren't too many parts that the Fiesta RS WRC shares with the S2000. Plenty of parts may look similar, but they have been modified to be lighter, stiffer or whatever we felt would bring an improvement.
Q. The Fiesta RS WRC is visibly different to the S2000. Why?
A. Together with Ford of Europe's design team, we carried out a full restyling of the car to incorporate as many aspects as we could of Ford's kinetic design styling cues that are an integral part of the company's road vehicles. There are some necessary compromises for aerodynamic reasons, but both Ford and M-Sport are delighted with the car's appearance.
Q. Is the Fiesta RS WRC more difficult to drive than the Focus RS WRC?
A. The new regulations require 'back to basics' rally cars. In terms of chassis they are similar, but some of the technology we used in the Focus RS WRC has been banned. There is no active central differential, no launch control and no paddle shift gearchange. That demands more driver skills.
Q. So the car rewards the better drivers?
A. Previously at the start of a stage the driver pushed a button that operated the clutch and the launch control. Now it is down to the guy behind the wheel to judge traction, the operation of the clutch and the manual gearchange in order to leave the start. It means they have more to do. That's a good thing because if a driver wants to be world champion then he needs to be capable of moving the car from a standing start without technology doing it for him. Q. Did the banning of certain items of technology mean less was required of your team's engineering skills?
A. Not really. When a high-tech piece of kit like the paddle shift gearchange was outlawed, then we turned our attentions and resources to development in other areas where we could use our skills and expertise.
Q. Was it annoying to effectively consign high-tech kit on which you have spent time and money to the rubbish bin?
A. It's a little frustrating not to be able to use technology that we previously developed for the Ford Focus RS WRC. But reduced technology brings down the cost of competition and this has generated interest from new manufacturers, so it was the right decision. The new era of WRC is a compromise between affordability and eliminating waste. High-tech kit will live on in the Focus RS WRC in different levels of rallying but not in WRC. The new Fiesta RS WRC is high-tech and affordable and we have sold several to customers already.
Q. How much testing have you completed with the Fiesta RS WRC?
A. We started by putting the 2.0-lite Focus RS WRC engine into the Fiesta S2000 in March. That was our first Fiesta RS WRC. We didn't do much more testing until August when we installed the 1.6-litre prototype (without direct injection) into the car. Since then we've tested on gravel in Britain, Portugal, France and Spain. We tested in Britain, Spain and France on asphalt and in Sweden on snow and ice. We have covered more than 11,000km in total.
Q. Which drivers have carried out the testing?
A. The early work was done by guys like Henning Solberg, Matthew Wilson, PG Andersson and Andreas Mikkelsen. Even Malcolm Wilson took the wheel briefly! All the recent work, which has concentrated more on perfecting the set-up, was done by Mikko Hirvonen and Jari-Matti Latvala.
Q. Do you believe the Fiesta RS WRC will be fully competitive in the FIA World Rally Championship this season?
A. That's the target every person in the team has set themselves. We believe we have developed a great rally car, but we have no benchmark with which to compare it. Before, we were able to compare new versions of the Focus RS WRC with the previous car. Because the regulations are new we have nothing like-for-like with which to make a comparison. So we will only know how competitive we are at the end of the first proper stage in Sweden.