Motor Sport News - - Front Page - Pho­tos: Hal Ridge

It’s un­likely that you’d find a bank clerk go­ing into a branch on his time off work, but in sport, it’s widely ac­cepted that in­volve­ment can turn into ad­dic­tion. The tra­di­tional mo­tor rac­ing sea­son runs from spring to au­tumn, giv­ing driv­ers and team per­son­nel a lit­tle time off over the win­ter. But not in the French Alps.

As World Rally Cham­pi­onship teams use the Alpine re­gion to pre­pare for one of the most fa­mous mo­tor­sport com­pe­ti­tions in the world, the Monte Carlo Rally each De­cem­ber and early Jan­uary, there are also a range of mo­tor­sport stars, teams and en­gi­neers work­ing high in the moun­tains to get their fix in the win­ter months.

Trophee Andros, or Andros Tro­phy as it is re­ferred to in English, was cre­ated in 1990 as a win­ter com­pe­ti­tion on tracks con­structed of ice and snow. Pre­vi­ous races had in­volved cham­pi­ons from a range of dis­ci­plines in­vited to par­tic­i­pate in a se­lec­tion of non-spe­cific ma­chines, fit­ted with stud­ded ice tyres. Tour­ing cars, rally and ral­ly­cross cars were utilised.

Andros Tro­phy founder Max Mamers ex­plains: “At that time, there were only two ice races in France at Serre Che­va­lier and Cha­monix. All of the cham­pi­ons were in­vited, the idea was to make one chal­lenge to know who is the best.”

In the years that fol­lowed, as the Tro­phy grew into the spe­cial­ist dis­ci­pline, the ma­chin­ery be­came fit­for-pur­pose and the events hap­pened as far from the Alps as in Paris, and Canada for a three-year spell.

To­day, chas­sis are con­trolled but fit­ted with dif­fer­ent sil­hou­ette bodyshells, built specif­i­cally for the dis­ci­pline. A ma­jor tech­ni­cal break­through came in 1992, when mul­ti­ple French hill­climb cham­pion Mar­cel Tar­res hatched a plan to keep up with the rally driv­ers more ac­cus­tomed to ro­tat­ing a car on cor­ner en­try. Tak­ing in­spi­ra­tion from a fork­lift truck, Tar­res de­vised a four­wheel-steer sys­tem and, hav­ing fought off op­po­si­tion from those for who it would re­move a driv­ing ad­van­tage, the trend was set. Through the years the rear-wheels join­ing the front in steer­ing the cars has be­come a key el­e­ment of car set-up, in track con­di­tions that con­stantly change at each race as the ice gets cut up by stud­ded types be­fore freez­ing some more.

It’s that unique chal­lenge that at­tracts top-level mo­tor­sport par­tic­i­pants year-on-year, be they en­gi­neers, driv­ers or whole teams. When they could be quite hap­pily spend­ing time away from awnings at­tached to the side of 40-foot trail­ers, those in­volved are drawn into the moun­tains.

“I’ve been do­ing Andros since 1998 and I’ve won the ti­tle six times with Jean-philippe Dayraut,” says Lau­rent Feda­cou, who works for the of­fi­cial Mazda-backed team in Andros Tro­phy when he isn’t engi­neer­ing race-win­ning cars in World Ral­ly­cross and the DTM. “I re­ally like to do this in the win­ter. It’s a very nice chal­lenge, very dif­fi­cult with a lot of pa­ram­e­ters, es­pe­cially the track, which is chang­ing quite a lot all the time.”

En­gi­neers who work in top-level ral­ly­ing, GT rac­ing and even For­mula 1 also get in­volved.

Cur­rent reg­u­la­tions have re­mained sta­ble for the last decade, and while the chas­sis are con­trolled and the nat­u­rally as­pi­rated V6 en­gines are capped to three-litres (pro­duc­ing around 360 horse­power), the sus­pen­sion is rel­a­tively free. That makes it par­tic­u­larly in­ter­est­ing for en­gi­neers and driv­ers to adapt the cars for the con­di­tions on each run, ad­just­ing dampers, ride heights, the amount the rear-wheel turn com­pared to the front, and more con­ven­tional ge­om­e­try vari­ables.

The most-crowned Andros Tro­phy cham­pion ever is tour­ing car leg­end Yvan Muller, who has 10 ti­tles to his name, while France’s only For­mula 1 cham­pion Alain Prost is a three-time Tro­phy win­ner. The 1997 F1 cham­pion Jac­ques Vil­leneuve has also been a reg­u­lar com­peti­tor in the past. The cur­rent reign­ing cham­pion is JeanBap­tise Dubourg, who drives a Re­nault Clio for his fam­ily’s DA Rac­ing team that is also plan­ning a full-time pro­gramme in World RX this year.

In 2015 at Lo­heac in France, Dubourg joined Timmy Hansen and triple FIA world cham­pion Pet­ter Sol­berg on the ral­ly­cross podium in one of the most com­pet­i­tive events of the sea­son.

“You don’t have the same grip on ice that you do in ral­ly­cross. Be­cause of the studs on the tyres [250 per tyre], the grip is con­stant so you can put the car where you want on the en­try or exit of the cor­ner,” says Dubourg. “You also have four-wheel turn­ing in Andros Tro­phy, so it’s not the same way to drive, but I take the ex­pe­ri­ence and some­times use it in ral­ly­cross when it is a wet race. I’m not afraid when we lose grip. Some driv­ers like Prost and Muller say this is the hard­est com­pe­ti­tion in the world, more dif­fi­cult than F1. The track changes all the time and you have to change the set­tings of the car all the time too. I learn a lot with en­gi­neers and how to set a car up well. When the track is fully ice you don’t have to think about your tyres, you can go flat-out. But, when Tar­mac is com­ing through in some parts you have to man­age your tyres be­cause you lose some grip with the studs. All the grip, all the per­for­mance, comes from the tyres, more than any­where else I think.”

Aside from a few ex­cep­tions, events are run over two days with in­di­vid­ual points-scor­ing rounds tak­ing place on Fri­day and Satur­day. The mov­ing show­piece is all about the tele­vi­sion prod­uct, with a live prime-time broad­cast tak­ing place on both evenings.

Each driver takes part in two qual­i­fy­ing ses­sions, but un­like in con­ven­tional timed runs, the time is recorded for four laps in­stead of one. The top five driv­ers then move through into the ‘Su­per Pole’ shootout to de­ter­mine who starts where at the front of the fi­nal. Grid po­si­tion is more crit­i­cal than ever in Andros Tro­phy, over­tak­ing is dif­fi­cult on ice, so start­ing at the front is key. How­ever, only 20 per cent of an event’s points are scored in the only on-track race of the day, a sys­tem de­vised to dis­cour­age con­tact in the fi­nals in a do-or-die ma­noeu­vre to gain a po­si­tion, although as in ral­ly­cross,

it can still oc­cur. The over­all po­si­tions for the event are taken from an amal­ga­ma­tion of the to­tal points scored. “It’s like that to avoid hav­ing a stock­car race,” says Mamers. “Be­cause there is low grip, peo­ple could run into each other and just say ‘oops, sorry’. To have the qual­i­fi­ca­tion like rally and the fi­nal like ral­ly­cross is the best of both worlds. This is the best ice rac­ing in the world. Not the only ice rac­ing, but the best.”

Spec­ta­tor num­bers vary from very few at the more re­mote events (lo­ca­tion and live TV keep­ing view­ers at home in­stead of watch­ing the ac­tion in mi­nus 15 de­grees), while the busier rounds, in Val Thorens and Su­per Besse at­tract around 15,000.

The se­ries is about the fu­ture too, and in­tro­duced the world’s first sin­gle-make elec­tric cat­e­gory in 2010. The rules in the EV class have re­mained sta­ble since, the rear­wheels be­ing driven by a sin­gle mo­tor and used as a step­ping stone into the top Elite and Elite Pro classes.

Monaco Grand Prix win­ner Olivier Pa­nis drives for Bel­gian GT squad WRT in Andros Tro­phy and de­spite win­ning events, is still crav­ing a Tro­phy crown. “I came for fun, but I came to win too and it’s re­ally tough,” says the Frenchman. “The most dif­fi­cult thing is to use the tyres on the right mo­ment. It’s a real strat­egy, but it’s the same for every­one. For me the most dif­fi­cult thing to un­der­stand is the track changes. You need to change your driv­ing style; some­times flat out, some­times like in a for­mula car. I tell you it’s re­ally tough. For me it’s one of the most dif­fi­cult things I’ve done, it’s just un­be­liev­able!”

It’s not just for­mer driv­ers ei­ther, Haas F1 driver Ro­main Gros­jean joined Dubourg in the DA Rac­ing team be­fore Christ­mas and won his third-ever Andros event, in an in­creas­ingly un­usual sit­u­a­tion where F1 driv­ers are al­lowed to go and play else­where.

The lower key na­ture of the skire­sort-based events is also ar­guably a strong draw for the stars that com­pete, they are largely left to their own de­vices in the pad­dock, left to en­joy man-han­dling the howl­ing V6-en­gined cars around the ice cov­ered cir­cuits.

A huge amount of driv­ing and engi­neer­ing knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ence is at play in Andros Tro­phy. The very con­cept of en­ter­ing al­most every cor­ner look­ing through a side win­dow, fit­ted with its own wiper to en­sure clear vi­sion is enough to ex­cite any­one into feed­ing their habit with off­sea­son sub-zero ac­tion. ■

The four-wheel-steer cars bat­tle for po­si­tion

Ski re­sort back­drops at­tract fans and driv­ers Berenice De­moustier com­petes in the Elite di­vi­sion of the Tro­phy

A clever points-scor­ing sys­tem means that con­tact be­tween cars in the Andros Tro­phy is dis­cour­aged

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