The same-- but different The second half of this year's FIA World Rally Championship continues at the same unrelenting pace, with a fixture scheduled every two weeks all the way through to the series' final showdown in Australia, mid-November....
The same-- but different
The second half of this year's FIA World Rally Championship continues at the same unrelenting pace, with a fixture scheduled every two weeks all the way through to the series' final showdown in Australia, mid-November. And after the recent Rally Japan, there is still a great deal that is new to be discovered, including the forthcoming 'RAC Rally' which has been programmed in September instead of November, a break with a tradition that dates back to the late 1950s. In tyre terms, this switch stands to alter the event's character quite significantly, although exactly how much will depend to a large extent on the weather...
By coincidence, Rally GB's new date sees it organised at the same period of the year as the pre-event test sessions that were organised upstream of the event when it was scheduled in November. It is therefore not strictly true to say that this calendar change marks a step into unknown territory. Indeed, Michelin's engineers and technicians, like their counterparts with their partner-teams, know only too well that the conditions in the south Welsh forests at this time of year can be extremely variable.
"The problem associated with testing in September was that we always hoped we would find conditions similar to those we could expect in November, that is to say cold, damp and slippery," says Michelin Competition's Rallies Manager Aimé Chatard. "Very often, however, our plans were frustrated by the presence of bright, mocking sunshine. When that happened, we just had to settle with running on packed, hard-wearing roads that are actually more reminiscent of the Acropolis Rally, although not so hot! A far cry, in any case, from what we were likely to face two months later."
So, what can teams expect this time round? A pleasant Indian summer? The first signs of a rainy autumn? Somewhere between the two? As far as tyres are concerned, the challenge is clearly once again going to be the need to propose a selection of competitive products capable of covering all the scenarios possible. "We are a long way from the Mediterranean, but this year's Rally GB could turn out to be more akin to the family of 'hard- wearing' rallies. Our partner teams have therefore not hesitated to nominate, as a back-up solution, the Michelin GW, the compact tread pattern and resistance to wear of which are more usually associated with the WRC's 'East Mediterranean Trilogy' [Cyprus, Greece, Turkey]," continues Aimé Chatard. "However, Rally GB promises to be something of a chameleon event and conditions could just as easily turn out to be at the other end of the scale and justify its presence until now in the family of 'soft gravel' events. To cover this eventuality, our partners have chosen the Michelin Z which will allow them to benefit from a more open pattern that we will be able to re-cut if necessary to up-rate its water and/or mud clearance capacity as a function of the conditions on the day."
Both these products will be available in a choice of compounds (cold or hot temperatures, dry and wet stage surfaces) and, for information, the quota for each driver for Wales Rally GB is 90 tyres, a maximum of 45 of which may be used in the course of the event.
The event seen by Marcus Grönholm, Peugeot-Michelin driver, two-times World Champion and winner of Rally GB in 2001...
Q: Marcus, what is your opinion of the break with tradition with the organisation of the 'RAC Rally' in September instead of November?
M. G.: "If you'd have asked me the same question five years ago, I would have said: 'Hey, let's move it!' But now I believe that the fog, the wet and all the other traditional ingredients made it a very interesting rally. So I think it's a little bit of a shame."
Q: What experience do you have of South Wales at this time of year?
M. G.: "If the going is dry, I think it will be quite fast, but I have never really experienced the Welsh forests in the dry. It's true that our pre-event tests were often organised in September. However, in order to find similar conditions to those we could expect two months later, we would go looking for rain since dry conditions would have been 'bad' weather for testing purposes!"
Q: What will be the make up of your personal quota for this rally?
M. G.: "As the regulations allow, I will register my list at the last moment [Monday September 13th] following a test session aimed at evaluating the range of tyres Michelin has prepared for this rally. If it turns out to be dry, I think wear could be a problem so my choice will favour patterns and compounds that are resistant to wear. The fact that the Welsh stages can actually be hard-wearing isn't really a surprise but was often concealed by the slippery surface film we tended to find in November."