How new rules will help cre­ate the strong­est car yet, say ex­perts

Motor Sport News - - Front Page - By David Evans

Next year’s World Rally Cars will pro­vide more pro­tec­tion for crews than any cars in the sport’s his­tory, ac­cord­ing to the FIA’S rally direc­tor Jarmo Ma­ho­nen.

A pe­riod of un­par­al­leled al­liance be­tween the man­u­fac­tur­ers and the sport’s gov­ern­ing body is ex­pected to de­liver cars which are safer to com­pete in and stages which are safer to watch from.

One of the pri­mary con­cerns about next year’s all-new World Rally Cars is the safety of the crews. With more power and more down­force, the cars them­selves will be faster than pre­vi­ous WRC ma­chin­ery, forc­ing all the sport’s stake­hold­ers to go fur­ther than ever to make it as safe as pos­si­ble.

Volk­swa­gen has taken the lead in gen­er­at­ing side-im­pact data to share with all the teams – the Ger­man firm ac­tu­ally run­ning a crash test of a Polo R WRC.

“What the man­u­fac­tur­ers and Volk­swa­gen has done is a great ef­fort,” said Ma­ho­nen. “We fully sup­port this work. If we can say this, I think the World Rally Cars for next year will be the safest ever from the point of view of the crew.

“Yes, they will be faster, but they will also be safer. When we re­alised the speed was go­ing to go up and, of course, we all know that it will and we un­der­stand con­cerns about this, then we said: what can we do? We can do two things: work with the cars and work with the ral­lies to make the whole pack­age in the World Rally Cham­pi­onship as safe as pos­si­ble for next sea­son.”

FIA pres­i­dent Jean Todt echoed those sen­ti­ments adding: “We al­ways put a pri­or­ity on safety, even if on ral­ly­ing it is more dif­fi­cult be­cause con­trary to cir­cuit rac­ing, where you work a lot on the de­sign of the cir­cuit, you can­not work on the de­sign of the road in the same way.

“We have been work­ing in­ten­sively on the car, and it’s not only linked to the safety of the teams, it’s also linked to the safety of the spec­ta­tors. We are work­ing very closely, hand in hand, with the or­gan­is­ers of every event and we are mak­ing some com­mu­ni­ca­tion pro­gramme to ed­u­cate the fans when they at­tend a rally, so we are en­gaged to make sure that ral­ly­ing is as safe as we can make it.”

The FIA is work­ing closer than ever with rally or­gan­is­ers via safety del­e­gate Michele Mou­ton and this will go up an­other level next sea­son when the na­ture of stages comes un­der closer in­spec­tion than ever.

Ma­ho­nen said: “Michele is talk­ing to the or­gan­is­ers about the route they are us­ing. We are look­ing at the fast sec­tions in stages on the itin­er­ary and we are work­ing on a new ap­proach to spec­tat­ing on these ral­lies to see

what more we can do. We need to get into next year now. We need to see just how fast these cars are. No­body can tell us defini­tively if they will be two sec­onds, three sec­onds per kilo­me­tre faster or how much quicker the cor­ner speeds will be. We have looked at ev­ery­thing we can and worked with all the stake­hold­ers and when Jan­uary comes we will be keep­ing a very close eye on all of that.”

Volk­swa­gen’s side-im­pact test in­volved send­ing a fully-pre­pared rally car side­ways into a steel post at 25mph, 5mph more than the stan­dard road car test. That ex­tra speed more than dou­bled the en­ergy loads in­side the car and al­lowed engi­neers a greater un­der­stand­ing of what the crews will go through in such an ac­ci­dent and where the at­ten­tion was needed.

Volk­swa­gen tech­ni­cal direc­tor Fran­cois-xavier De­mai­son said: “There was a real wish from the FIA to in­crease the size of the re­stric­tor, for a faster and more spec­tac­u­lar car. So the only an­swer we came with was to push like hell – all the man­u­fac­tur­ers to­gether – to in­crease the safety. That’s what we have done. We have in­creased the foam next to the crew and re­in­forced the sills. Zero risk will never ex­ist, but we have done as much test­ing and sim­u­la­tion as pos­si­ble.

And all of that data has been shared with the man­u­fac­tur­ers. It’s about us­ing that ex­tra width to make the cars safer again.”

Volk­swa­gen’s Willy Rampf said: “This is not about per­for­mance, this is about safety and it’s in the in­ter­est of ev­ery­body – we are not giv­ing away our se­crets here.”

Side-im­pact is the main area of safety con­cern in ral­ly­ing. Pro­tec­tion in this area has moved on con­sid­er­ably since Michael ‘Beef ’ Park died in such a crash on the 2005 Rally GB.

The ar­eas the teams are work­ing on now in­clude a 30 per cent in­crease in the amount of im­pactab­sorb­ing foam fill­ing the space be­tween the crews and the door bars in the roll cage and us­ing the wider sills on the new cars to build in even more pro­tec­tion.

“The re­in­force­ment in the sill is like an ex­tra bar in the roll cage,” said Rampf, “and there’s now around 250mm of foam at the side. We have also worked on the seats to put more foam in there and moved the seats closer to­gether, so the crew is fur­ther away from the door. Com­pared with 15 years ago, when there was no real head and neck or side pro­tec­tion, we’ve made a big step.

“We did a lot of prepa­ra­tion ahead of the crash test to help with the sim­u­la­tion work and the teams have all been very happy.”

While none of the driv­ers and co-driv­ers con­tacted by MN wanted to go on the record, sev­eral raised speed-re­lated con­cerns about next sea­son – par­tic­u­larly af­ter Kris Meeke’s faster than ever WRC win in Fin­land last month.

One said: “We’ve all done the test­ing now and we all know how much faster we will be go­ing in these roads than Meeke did. We have to make sure ev­ery­thing is work­ing for the safety, it will be fast and, for sure, with the aero, the cor­ner speed will be in­cred­i­ble too.”

Citroen’s new-gen­er­a­tion car has proven quick, but also pushes safety bound­aries

VW tech man De­mai­son (r)

Ma­ho­nen wants push on rally safety stan­dards

Pho­tos: mck­lein-im­age­

Volk­swa­gen has car­ried out side-im­pact test­ing on a Polo R WRC for re­search

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