Ford drivers warm to Sweden's snowy domain Colin McRae and Thomas RÃ¥dstrom will be aiming to build on the sensational debut performance of the Ford Focus World Rally Car when the FIA World Rally Championship moves to the ice and snow of ...
Ford drivers warm to Sweden's snowy domain
Colin McRae and Thomas Rådstrom will be aiming to build on the sensational debut performance of the Ford Focus World Rally Car when the FIA World Rally Championship moves to the ice and snow of Scandinavia next week for the Swedish Rally, round two of the 14-event series.
The speed of the Ford Martini World Rally Team Focus on last month's Monte Carlo Rally astonished even seasoned observers, McRae and co-driver Nicky Grist finishing third on the gruelling four-day event with team-mates Simon Jean-Joseph and Fred Gallagher 11th. Unfortunately those results were declared void at an appeal hearing when both Focus cars were excluded for using a non-standard water pump in the engine - outside the sport's technical regulations.
Revisions to the water pump system mean the Focus cars will be clear to run in Sweden and McRae, who regards the championship's only true winter rally as one of his favourites, is eager to get back behind the wheel of the Focus in competition.
"It's a very enjoyable event," said the 30-year-old Scot. "The stages are fast, but very forgiving if you make a mistake, and if there's sufficient snow you can use the snowbanks to position and balance the car in the corners. It's important to adjust your driving style to compensate for the snow and ice, remembering to do everything much earlier than you would on gravel or asphalt.
"Nordic drivers have dominated this rally but there's no real reason why. I've been close to winning a couple of times and it's far less specialised than the Rally Finland. The faster the stages the more difficult it is for an inexperienced driver because you can't practise at high speed but I know the rally well and I'm confident," he added.
Rådstrom is a proven force in Sweden. The 32-year-old won the Swedish Rally in 1994, when the event was not a full World Championship round, won the national championship in 1996 and led the rally for the first day-and-a-half last year before retirement.
"I've been very impressed with the Focus during testing," said Rådstrom, who will make his Ford debut on this rally. "We haven't covered a lot of kilometres but I've found a differential set-up with which I'm happy and it's very easy to handle. At the same time I know there's much more to come from the car so it looks good for the future.
"People tell me how amazed they are that Scandinavian drivers have such car control in snowy conditions. But we're born in these conditions, we live in these conditions and we drive in them for five months a year. There's no big secret to driving quickly on snow and ice - just stay in the ruts and use the snowbanks," he added.
Ford Martini World Rally Team director Malcolm Wilson is hoping the team will offset the disappointment of losing McRae's Monte Carlo Rally points and continue the encouraging development of the Focus. "What we achieved in terms of performance in Monte Carlo was far better than expected. We must build on that. Our engineers have worked very hard to re-design the water pump and now, in Sweden, we enter the next stage of the car's development programme with confidence."
Extreme temperatures that can drop as low as -25C create technical difficulties not experienced on any other championship round. In those conditions it is essential to keep the engine warm enough for it to operate to its full potential. Failure to do so will result in the engine operating in 'cold start' mode and running too rich.
The solution to the problem lies in the thermostat connected to the Focus' radiator. In the cold weather likely to be experienced in Sweden it will remain closed for much of the time, reducing the flow of cold water entering the car's engine by keeping it in the radiator.
The build up of ice on the cars during stages can add a remarkable 100kgs to the weight of competing cars, almost 10% of the car's normal body weight. As a result a key job for the Ford Martini team mechanics at every service park is to remove as much of the frozen ice as possible to ensure engine power and traction is not wasted.
The rally is one of only two in the championship that allows teams to use studded tyres and selecting the correct Michelin rubber is crucial. Studs that are too short to cut through the thick snow and ice will leave a driver unable to obtain good grip while studs that are too long will simply be ripped out of the tyre by the gravel beneath the ice.
The provinces of Varmland and Dalarna, in western Sweden, play host to the rally, the drivers completing an anti-clockwise loop north of the base city of Karlstad during the opening leg. Drivers head north-west into Dalarna during Leg 2, staying overnight in Borlange, before returning to Karlstad on the final day.
Two legs containing 142km of competition and a final leg of 99km combine to give more than 384km of special stages in a route of almost 1500km. Leg 2 contains the feared Jutbo stage, the most demanding of the rally and at almost 48km one of the longest in the championship. A super special stage at Kalvholmens Motorstadium ends the opening leg with a spectacular floodlit test at Falun ski stadium, where two cars race side by side in the shadow of the massive ski jump, ends the second leg. In general, the stages are fast and flat with few slow corners and virtually no hills.