MIKKELSEN BREAKS TANAK’S HEART

RALLY POLAND DRAMA

Motor Sport News - - Front Page - BY DAVID EVANS All the driv­ers rated, p29 Pho­tos: mck­lein-im­age­database.com STAGE TIMES

Three weeks ago, Drive DMACK team prin­ci­pal Dick Cor­mack stepped out of his air con­di­tioned of­fice and into the full glare of World Rally Cham­pi­onship fail­ure. To the wider world, he’d dropped the ball in the worst pos­si­ble fash­ion. Ex­cept he hadn’t. He had a plan. And last week in Poland that plan came within two stages of pay­ing off with the first non-miche­lin win since 2010. Un­der­stand­ably, Cor­mack’s ar­rival at Rally Italy’s Fri­day lunchtime media zone was a touch tardy; the fir­ing line’s to be dodged as long as pos­si­ble.

I asked the team’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor Glenn Pat­ter­son if he’d done a run­ner. “No, no,” came the re­ply. “Dick asked me where the media zone was when I was leav­ing; I told him to come out of the truck and turn left. He’s gone out of the truck… and turned right!”

Cor­mack’s ar­rival co­in­cided with that of Ott Tanak’s Ford Fi­esta RS WRC – the one which had left Al­ghero first thing that morn­ing wear­ing four of DMACK’S new, hard com­pound tyres. And come back with slicks. Slicks down to the can­vas.

Tanak did what he could to fend off the in­evitable ques­tions, but sooner or later a fin­ger had to be pointed. And Cor­mack was the man with the tar­get.

Dick and I had talked about the new tyres com­ing be­fore the event and he’d ad­mit­ted, off the record, this could be on the cards. But it still hurts when you’re stand­ing watch­ing the WRC’S hack pack fum­bling with iphones to get a pic­ture of this self-made fi­asco.

Once I’d bagged my shot, I sought a word with Cor­mack.

“It doesn’t look good,” he said, test­ing the water, “OK, it’s re­ally not good. But… this was never our tar­get event. This tyre wasn’t made for Sar­dinia. It’s made for Poland.”

Fast for­ward three weeks and the story couldn’t be more dif­fer­ent. DMACK de­liv­ered in em­phatic fash­ion. “Long way from Sar­dinia this,” I of­fered to Cor­mack as we watched Tanak’s time go up on the fi­nal Satur­day morn­ing stage. The Es­to­nian had done the per­fect three stages, fastest ev­ery­where, build­ing his lead from four to 18 sec­onds.

“I told you, didn’t I,” was the re­ply. “All sea­son, our plan has been to tar­get here and Fin­land.”

The ‘Tanak to win Poland’ story started 12 months ago, when he could and, had it not been for a hand­brake prob­lem, prob­a­bly would have won in Miko­la­jki.

The DMACK story, the one which brought us to the point where Miche­lin’s WRC mo­nop­oly was be­ing tested to the ex­treme, goes back a few years ear­lier.

Hav­ing worked for Pirelli for a long time, Cor­mack saw the firm’s F1 com­mit­ment com­ing and felt the time was right for a change. He’d thought for some time about set­ting up on his own. At the end of 2008, he stopped think­ing about it.

“I had £85,000 in my Pirelli pen­sion,” he said, “so I cashed that in and went to China to meet some part­ners in the pro­duc­tion of rally tyres. It was a huge gam­ble. Huge. So many peo­ple told me it would never work, I was bang­ing my head against a brick wall, but you just can’t lis­ten to them.”

The first tyres were made through 2009 and DMACK ac­tu­ally made its com­pet­i­tive de­but with a Juha Kankkunen win on the 2010 Rally of Portugal Re­vival.

“Juha ran the tyres on a Ford Es­cort Mk2,” Cor­mack said. “That was a good start af­ter I’d spent weeks on end work­ing with the guys in China.”

It was even bet­ter when the full WRC sea­son de­but came in Swe­den, 2011. Martin Se­merad won PWRC and Martin Prokop was sec­ond Su­per 2000 home on the all-new DMACK stud­ded tyre.

No­body at the time knew just how close Cor­mack was sailing to the wind. “We got the tyres for Swe­den just in time for the event,” he said, “like, just in time. They had the studs fit­ted in Swe­den, but there was no time to test. Shake­down was the first time the tyres ran. Luck­ily, we had a load of snow on that event, so there were no wor­ries about stud re­ten­tion and the tyres gave good grip. But I’d been ab­so­lutely crap­ping my­self be­fore that event.”

The next event was Portugal. The hon­ey­moon was over.

“Our hard tyre was de­stroyed in 15 kilo­me­tres,” he said. “We’d got it com­pletely wrong. These were the days when you were only al­lowed one [choice] of tyre, so we had to go to Miche­lin, the teams and the FIA to ask per­mis­sion to let the driv­ers run the medium, which was more durable than the hard. It was a com­plete disas­ter.”

But DMACK learned and learned very quickly. By the sea­son-end­ing Rally GB, the tyres had been re­made and fit­ted to a Tanak-driven Fi­esta RS WRC, on which they fin­ished sixth.

“That was when things started to turn,” said Cor­mack.

A step back from World Rally Cars re­duced the pres­sure and al­lowed the firm to flour­ish, but this year it was time for a full attack with Tanak, a fac­tory-spec Fi­esta and a full sea­son for the Drive DMACK World Rally Team.

Tanak’s name on a DMACK con­tract was good news, but it was an­other name on an­other con­tract that re­ally sig­naled the firm’s in­ten­tion.

Af­ter three decades at Pirelli, Fiorenzo Brivio fol­lowed Cor­mack from Mi­lan to DMACK’S Carlisle base. Brivio has been there and seen it all in ral­ly­ing, from cook­ing stage­spe­cific com­pounds for Lan­cia’s Delta S4 to mas­ter­mind­ing win af­ter WRC win for the Ital­ian firm.

“We’d achieved a lot our­selves,” said Cor­mack, “we’d taken the tyres pretty much as far as we could, bring­ing pro­duc­tion out of China into the UK in a deal to use Cooper’s fac­tory. What we needed was some­thing to send a sig­nal to man­u­fac­tur­ers and get us to that next level. Brivio did that.”

DMACK’S goal re­mains a sim­ple one: to sup­ply a world cham­pi­onship man­u­fac­turer. Last week was a big step in that di­rec­tion.

Back to the top of the story, how did the tyre that failed so cat­a­stroph­i­cally in Sar­dinia work so well in sim­i­lar heat in Poland?

Cor­mack ex­plained: “We knew we couldn’t bring a tyre to the mar­ket which would work on every [gravel] round of the cham­pi­onship, we’re not quite there yet. We had a new tyre com­ing for Portugal and with Fiore’s ex­pe­ri­ence, our ex­pe­ri­ence and the chance to work with the Cooper en­gi­neers, we thought this was pos­si­ble.”

The sur­faces, the tem­per­a­tures, the re­quired op­er­at­ing range for the tyres were all worked on and DMACK’S chemists went to work.

“The chem­i­cal com­pound­ing side of the oper­a­tion is a real black art,” said Cor­mack. “Ba­si­cally, you look for the com­pro­mise be­tween com­pound and con­struc­tion. We could have gone for a heavy con­struc­tion which would have worked in Sar­dinia, we wouldn’t have any punc­tures or wear is­sues be­cause of the strength of the tyre, but it would be slow. And be­cause of the stiff­ness in the side­wall, it wouldn’t of­fer the same trac­tion; flex­i­bil­ity is re­duced and that takes some of the lat­eral grip.

“We went in the mid­dle. There were a lot of ques­tions here when Ott took the hard tyre on Satur­day morn­ing when Miche­lin ran softs. But call­ing ours a hard is a bit of a mis­nomer: our hard is just a lit­tle bit harder than the Miche­lin soft. And our soft is a lot softer – which is how we were so con­fi­dent on Sun­day morn­ing. And we know this tyre will be phe­nom­e­nal if we have typ­i­cal Rally GB con­di­tions in Wales.

“But, like I say, so much of this is down to ex­pe­ri­ence of know­ing what com­pound and con­struc­tion will work in what con­di­tions and Fiore knows all about that.”

By Satur­day night, Tanak had widened the gap past the 20-sec­ond mark. Dreams were start­ing to be dreamt.

The rain was com­ing, that much we knew, but DMACK had it cov­ered. If it did rain, the soft would of­fer more grip than the French equiv­a­lent. And if tem­per­a­tures stayed north of the 30 de­gree mark with the sun high in the sky… well, bolt on the hards and re­peat Satur­day morn­ing’s clean sweep.

By day­break, the dark, threat­en­ing clouds were de­liv­er­ing se­ri­ous amounts of rain.

No wor­ries. Tanak went out, did two stages and came back to ser­vice, Granted, he’d shipped some time to the sec­ond­placed An­dreas Mikkelsen, but the Fi­esta was run­ning too hard. Soft­ened off with four fresh softs, it was sent back out to bring it home.

Drop­ping three sec­onds at the first split in the penul­ti­mate stage wasn’t good. And then not good be­came to­tal disas­ter in just a mat­ter of min­utes. The front-right had been knocked off the rim by one of the ridicu­lously deep ruts that had been dug into the sea­son’s soft­est stages. The lead was gone. Re­placed by numb­ness.

amounts Granted,

Fi­esta with the

Had any­body dropped the pin from the grenade the sport had cru­elly lobbed into this cor­ner of the ser­vice park, it would have been heard for miles. DMACK and M-sport folk sat and stared, barely able to take in what had just hap­pened.

The Fi­esta’s first win in three and a half years had been stolen.

Un­der­stand­ably, Tanak was in no mood to talk at the end of the stage. It didn’t re­ally mat­ter. An ex­pla­na­tion wasn’t go­ing to change any­thing.

With one stage to go, he was sec­ond. Or­di­nar­ily this would have been cause for mass cel­e­bra­tion for the Es­to­nian fans camped out­side. Now though, with the rain di­lut­ing the tears, run­ner-up meant noth­ing.

But still, res­o­lutely, they stood and waited for Tanak and co-driver Raigo Molder. Their sod­den, limp flags cap­tur­ing the mood as well as any­thing.

Next door, the mood had lifted con­sid­er­ably. For the sec­ond time, Mikkelsen scored vic­tory at the last gasp.

con­tin­ued on page 28

Tanak was in the depths of de­spair at the fin­ish

Ogier was fed up with his charge

Mikkelsen was consistent to in­herit Tanak’s lead

Pad­don again banked some sen­si­ble points in Poland with his run to a fine third place

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