Autosport (UK) - - CONTENTS - Rally tech­niques

Rally drivers may look lairy on the limit, but the skills in­volved aren’t so dif­fer­ent to cir­cuit rac­ing

When I started work­ing with rally drivers at the turn of the cen­tury, the think­ing from Pro­drive and M-sport was that the as­phalt stages must have a de­gree of sim­i­lar­ity to cir­cuit-rac­ing tech­niques, but now it’s be­come rel­e­vant to the loose sur­faces, snow and gravel, as well.

The ac­tual dif­fer­ence is not huge, at least not as much as peo­ple think, and some gen­eral prin­ci­ples ap­ply re­gard­less of the sur­face. Whether you’re on as­phalt, gravel or snow, you don’t want cor­ners go­ing on too long, you’ve still got to com­mu­ni­cate with the sur­face in the same way with the rates of in­put, you’ve got to de­crease the brake pres­sure in a smooth way and in­tro­duce the steer­ing for the cor­ner to make sure you’re not slid­ing with no for­ward tra­jec­tory, which only costs you time.

Cer­tainly, we’re see­ing a big reduction in the Scan­di­na­vian flick now, which of course hap­pens nat­u­rally with the pen­du­lum ef­fect if you come out of a left-han­der and you’ve got a right-han­der com­ing up pretty soon. But as­sum­ing it’s a straight-ahead ap­proach to a right-hand cor­ner, then it’s more ef­fec­tive to just in­tro­duce the weight trans­fer to the left front in the same way you would with a rac­ing car. On the loose, it’s still about achiev­ing the straight­est lines you can.

When it comes to ac­cel­er­a­tion, of course one doesn’t want too much wheel­spin, but on the gravel some­times a tiny bit of wheel­spin cuts through to a harder sur­face be­low, so it is tol­er­a­ble to tease the throt­tle more than you would do on the race track.

The at­ti­tude does have to be dif­fer­ent though – one thing you’re not look­ing for in rally drivers is to be the world’s lat­est braker. When you train a rac­ing driver at Brunt­ingth­orpe, you’re re­hears­ing it 100 times over and al­ways re­duc­ing speed for the slow­est point of the cor­ner, which is of­ten fur­ther around the cor­ner than you would ex­pect. But in ral­ly­ing, even with your pacenotes and the co-driver sit­ting along­side you, it’s of­ten hard to know pre­cisely what that point is.

There are fur­ther tools that a rally driver can

use com­pared to a rac­ing driver, but just be­cause they are there it doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily mean you should use them all the time. The hand­brake is a case in point – it does have a place, but you’ve got to be care­ful that you don’t slow the car down too much and don’t bog down or stall the en­gine on the way out.

One for­mer Monte Carlo Rally win­ner I spent some time train­ing once asked for my thoughts on left-foot brak­ing, and it’s my view that there will be times when you use it to change the di­rec­tion of the car, but it’s just an­other tool and not as crit­i­cal as peo­ple think. One doesn’t have to be a nat­u­ral left-foot braker to win ral­lies – you can get ro­ta­tion with the brake de­crease and the steer­ing wheel, as well as the hand­brake.

Rally drivers are thor­oughly en­joy­able char­ac­ters to work with, be­cause they are in a rugged sport and you need a cheer­ful op­ti­mism in the harsh con­di­tions they com­pete in, and the po­ten­tial dan­ger they face ev­ery time.

I’ve worked with sev­eral great drivers in that time: Mar­cus Gron­holm had a tremen­dous com­pe­tence about him and could have gone on for longer had he not been at a cer­tain stage in his life, and Pet­ter Sol­berg, the 2003 world cham­pion, is a fan­tas­tic char­ac­ter and a real all-guns-blaz­ing driver who has been very ef­fec­tive since switch­ing to ral­ly­cross.

Of course, the environment is spec­tac­u­lar, even in ral­ly­cross, but it doesn’t mean that be­hind the wheel you’re driv­ing it in the same way it looks.

Se­bastien Loeb is the most suc­cess­ful rally driver of all time and is al­most Alain Prost-like in the way he drives the car, with very lit­tle ex­cess en­ergy and not a huge amount of cor­rec­tion or ag­gres­sive­ness with the throt­tle. There’s a great el­e­gance to the way he per­forms and that’s al­most the op­po­site of the im­pres­sion that ral­ly­ing cre­ates.

Al­though it is nec­es­sary to be re­spon­sive to sur­face changes and over­steer/un­der­steer as they come along, you can re­duce the num­ber of times you have to re­act by soft­en­ing up your in­puts, wait­ing un­til the car is ro­tated and not de­lib­er­ately pro­vok­ing the op­po­site lock.

Of course, this can make it more bor­ing for spec­ta­tors, but it’s ef­fec­tive and it’s here to stay.

“One thing you’re not look­ing for in rally drivers is to be the world’s lat­est braker”

The hand­brake can be a use­ful tool, but shouldn’t be abused

Slid­ing looks dra­matic, but isn’t al­ways the quick­est

Loeb trans­ferred his skills to Le Mans with Pescarolo

Gron­holm could have gone on for longer

Neat and tidy lines are still ef­fec­tive on rough roads

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