BP-Ford and BFGoodrich secure the Manufacturers' world title for second time* Fourth place for Mikko Hirvonen in Ireland was sufficient to hand BP-Ford and BFGoodrich tyres their second consecutive Manufacturers' crown, although this was perhaps...
BP-Ford and BFGoodrich secure the Manufacturers' world title for second time*
Fourth place for Mikko Hirvonen in Ireland was sufficient to hand BP-Ford and BFGoodrich tyres their second consecutive Manufacturers' crown, although this was perhaps the only silver lining on the Ford squad's otherwise grey horizon this weekend after its N1 driver Marcus Gronholm crashed out on Friday morning. The Finn's misfortune has enabled Sebastien Loeb (Citroen/BFGoodrich) to regain the lead in the Drivers' standings with a cushion of six points and just one round remaining. The Frenchman collected his 36th world class win, overcoming the terrible conditions to beat his team-mate Dani Sordo and Finland's Jari-Matti Latvala (Ford/BFGoodrich) who claimed the first WRC podium finish of his career.
The outcome of the fight for the 2007 Drivers' title was perhaps decided on Friday morning, near Lough Gill, under a uniformly grey sky. As in Japan three weeks ago, Marcus Gronholm chose SS4 to crash out of the running, this time while braking for a particularly slippery corner which saw his car smash into a wall.
This mistake, his second in two outings, promises to play a decisive role in the Drivers' title chase since it has enabled Sebastien Loeb to move to the top of the points table with only one round ? Wales Rally GB ? to come?
That's not to say that the win of Sebastien Loeb (Citroen/BFGoodrich) this weekend was a mere walkover. Indeed, the Rally Ireland, a newcomer to the WRC, is sure to be remembered as one of the toughest asphalt fixtures of the year. "I've rarely come across such slippery conditions," admitted Sebastien Loeb. "We had dirt, mud, running water, puddles? everything. You just couldn't afford to take your eye off the ball for a moment; a mistake would have been so easy."
The Citroen crew succeeded in not repeating the sort of error that eliminated them in Japan. En route to their eighth win of the season, and running on g-Force Profiler H rain tyres or 're-cut' extra-soft g-Force Profiler dry weather tyres, they were fastest on 9 of the 20 stages which visited both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Loeb now tops the Drivers' championship by six points prior to the trip to Cardiff for the year's finale in a fortnight's time. The Citroen driver has never tasted success on the British round but, should Gronholm win, he will only need to finish fifth to sew up his fourth consecutive Drivers' crown, a score that will take him level with the current record of Tommi Makinen.
Dani Sordo (Citroen/BFGoodrich) fulfilled his mission to the letter by finishing in his team-mate's immediate wake, securing a brilliant second place to secure Citroen's third one-two of 2007. Despite its maximum harvest of 18 points, Citroen was unable to prolong the suspense in the fight for the Manufacturers' crown, however. BP-Ford only needed three points to clinch the title and Mikko Hirvonen rose to the occasion by taking fourth place. Fellow Finn Jari-Matti Latvala profited from the situation to finish on the podium of a WRC event for the first time, a just reward for a very promising season.
Petter Solberg, who turned 33 today, saved Subaru's weekend by finishing fifth overall. That said, Chris Atkinson ? who was sidelined by engine trouble on Friday ? was fastest on SS14, while the Norwegian posted third and fourth fastest times in the rain on BFGoodrich dry weather g-Force Profilers!
Matthieu Bonardel, BFGoodrich's rallies programme manager "We all feared this would be an awesome rally and it certainly lived up to its promise. The drivers had to contend with greasy, extremely wet conditions and grip that varied frequently from one corner to another. Pre-event testing was not permitted in Ireland, so we had to base ourselves on our findings on rounds of the country's national championship to produce the bestsuited products. The g-Force Profiler H rain tyre had not been used so far this year but it was in its element here. I would like to say a big bravo to Ford for their second Manufacturers' title and to Jari-Matti Latvala for his first world class podium."
WRC swan song for the g-Force Profiler asphalt tyre
The 2007 Rally Ireland marked the end of the reign in the World Rally Championship of the g- Force Profiler, an ultra-high performance dry weather asphalt tyre that owes its origins to the FP generation ('Fort Potentiel', or 'Strong Potential') tyre first seen on the 1998 Sanremo Rally. In the space of ten years, the FP has won 39 of the 40 asphalt WRC rounds contested and the g-Force Profiler went unbeaten in 2006 and 2007.
BFGoodrich's exit from the championship at the end of the current season and the new regulations that are due to come into effect in 2008 mean that WRC drivers will no longer be able to benefit from the outstanding grip provided by the g-Force Profiler dry weather asphalt tyre.
"I took all my wins on asphalt with this type of tyre," says Sebastien Loeb who has dominated seal surface events in the past three years. "The g-Force Profiler is essentially a racing tyre; that is to say it is rigid and responsive. It is also very progressive when the amount of grip or type of surface changes, for example. Another of its advantages is that certain compounds like the '0+'' (soft-medium) and the '2' (medium) compounds cover a broad spectrum of conditions which means they are competitive in changeable conditions. Indeed, the medium compound gave me incredible grip even in rain in Spain this year."
Prior to the 2007 Monte Carlo Rally which he contested with BFGoodrich, Petter Solberg had only driven once on FP generation tyres (1999 Sanremo Rally, Ford Focus): "I was surprised by how consistent the g-Force Profiler was, as well as by its ability to stay competitive over the full length of a stage, even in changing surface conditions." His team-mate Chris Atkinson first ran with this product this season: "Second time over the 46km 'Saint Pierreville-Antraigues' stage, the performance of the medium compound ('2') g-Force Profiler didn't drop off at all." The following day saw the Subaru Impreza WRC2006, on BFGoodrich tyres, take its first dry asphalt stage win since the car's launch the previous year.
The g-Force Profiler, which began its career with a win on the 2006 Monte Carlo Rally, is a direct descendant of the 'FP' generation which the Michelin Group launched in 1998 and which marked a leap forward in terms of performance on sealed surfaces thanks essentially to its new, more rigid construction. In the space of ten years, the construction of the WRC asphalt tyre has hardly evolved which, given the competition it has faced, underpins its efficiency.
he construction of a tyre is just one of the performance parameters, however. The chemists, engineers and development staff have put in a great deal of work on compounds, too, with a double objective: adapt them to the new construction and also broaden the spectrum across which eachcompound can function to anticipate future changes to the regulations. Indeed, given today's restrictions concerning the numbers of tyres authorised for each rally, compounds must now function across a temperature range of 15C and no longer just 5C. For example, a medium-soft compound ('0+') is designed to deliver optimal performance from 0 to 15C and no longer just from 0 to 5C as was the case, say, fifteen years ago when drivers had perhaps a hundred or so tyres available for every rally.
Finally, to match the compound to the conditions of the moment, drivers use a technique known as 're-cutting' which involves hand-carving extra groves into the tyre's tread, or widening existing grooves, to help the compound reach its working temperature more quickly or to clear water and/or mud if necessary. This job is carried out by BFGoodrich staff in the service park.