TEAMS TEST IN PER­FECT CON­DI­TIONS BUT WILL THE RALLY BE A SNOWY AF­FAIR?

Motor Sport News - - News Analysis - Pho­tos: mcklein-im­age­database.com

The Karl­stad and Torsby we­b­cams have never been so busy. And rarely has the in­ter­net de­liv­ered such dis­ap­point­ment. On the face of it, the World Rally Cham­pi­onship’s win­ter round is miss­ing a key el­e­ment. Win­ter. For the sec­ond year in suc­ces­sion, the WRC touches down in Swe­den’s lovely lush green­ery. There’s no snow.

Ac­tu­ally, that’s not quite ac­cu­rate, there is some snow in the ser­vice park in Torsby, 60 miles north of rally HQ in Karl­stad. But Karl­stad, at the time of writ­ing, is not all-white. And I wrote this on Mon­day. Not last July.

The dif­fer­ence be­tween last year and this is the level of ice on the roads – there’s much more this time around. And more snow was ex­pected ear­lier this week.

An­other dif­fer­ence from last year is, of course, the de­ci­sion to base the event fur­ther north in Torsby. Yes, HQ’S down south, but the cars and the teams will be based on the right side of what’s tra­di­tion­ally the snow­line at this time of the year.

Prepa­ra­tion for this event is al­ways dif­fi­cult. The weather can and will wreak ab­so­lute havoc on the stages.

The ideal sce­nario is heavy, heavy snow a month or so out from the event, then a week of warm weather to melt all that snow. Next we need a deep freeze, a week at mi­nus 20, with snow fall­ing steadily. In the days be­fore the start, the roads will be snow­ploughed, low­er­ing the base depth to give the studs plenty of bite into the ice be­neath while al­low­ing the tread to do its work in the snow it­self. Still freez­ing con­di­tions help to build and strengthen al­ready rock-solid walls of snow ei­ther side of the road.

That’s a pukka win­ter rally. And it was those kind of con­di­tions that Se­bastien Ogier and Ott Tanak en­joyed at their pre-event test in the beau­ti­ful sur­round­ings of Are in Swe­den’s far north.

But isn’t that a bit like train­ing at Wem­b­ley and then play­ing jumpers-for-goal­posts down the park? Not ac­cord­ing to the Es­to­nian.

“It’s def­i­nitely nice to drive the car in those per­fect con­di­tions,” he said. “But it doesn’t make such a big dif­fer­ence to the way we set the car up if the road is chang­ing.

“If we have good snow and, more im­por­tantly, good ice for the tyres to work, then we have in­cred­i­ble grip – more grip than on any gravel rally in the sea­son. But it looks like the roads can vary a lit­tle bit this week, so one thing we will need to be care­ful of is keep­ing the studs in the tyre.”

The brak­ing zone and exit of cor­ners are the key ar­eas where gravel will start to show through the ice – and it’s in those places that Tanak and his fel­low driv­ers will need ev­ery stud pos­si­ble to slow then speed-up their World Rally Cars this week.

The more northerly stages in Swe­den like Like­nas and the cross-bor­der and Nor­we­gian roads on Fri­day should all stand up to the bru­tal­ity of tens of thou­sands of horse­power im­pact­ing through hun­dreds of thou­sands of tung­sten-tipped studs. Var­gasen and the Hag­fors stage it­self will be an­other mat­ter.

Ei­ther way, Tanak’s two-day test has him fully fevered for this week.

“These new cars will be a lot of fun to drive this week,” Tanak told MN. “One thing you no­tice in the test is the in­creased speed and sta­bil­ity in the cor­ner. That comes from the aero and the chas­sis devel­op­ment from last year. We have learned a lot from the test and we have a good set-up.”

More than any­where, the sus­pen­sion set-up for Swe­den is vi­tal.

Tanak added: “You need the car soft enough to give you good trac­tion, when the snow is soft or maybe we are down to the gravel, but then when you are in the high-speed cor­ners on re­ally good ice, you need the car stiff enough to give you the sort of pre­ci­sion we want.”

Go too soft and the car will wal­low into top-gear drifts, strip­ping the driver of con­fi­dence and forc­ing him off the throt­tle. Go too hard and, in low-grip sec­tions, the tyre will sit on top of the sur­face and spin.

Af­ter a year in the DMACK World Rally Team, Tanak’s back with the main M-sport squad this sea­son and he’s timed his re­turn just right to place him­self along­side the best in the busi­ness in Se­bastien Ogier.

“I have to say, I’m a lit­tle bit sur­prised at how open he is with every­thing,” said Tanak. “He’s a re­ally nice guy and we’re shar­ing every­thing we’re find­ing at the test. It’s great for me to have him in the team, for the ex­pe­ri­ence but also be­cause your team-mate’s the first guy you have to beat. We have the same car, same every­thing, so it’s re­ally equal for him and I right now.”

Af­ter a Monte podium, Tanak’s dan­der is def­i­nitely up. But can he beat Ogier?

“That’s got to be what we’re aim­ing for.” This week? “Why not? For sure, we’re try­ing win.”

Tanak is en­joy­ing work­ing with Ogier

The 1995 Swedish Rally pro­duced per­fect con­di­tions ‘Can any­one stop Francis in 2017?’ BTRDA preview, p20

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