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