“Binning 20 miles for no reason just isn’t on”
Speed is dangerous. We all know that; when did a car last go off on the start line?
But what about the argument that increased speed surely equals increased risk? That was the theory coming out of Rally Sweden.
When Thierry Neuville averaged 78.42mph second time through the opening day’s Hof-Finnskog stage, that was acceptable. But when Ott Tanak upped the ante to an 85.63mph average on the following day’s Knon test, that was just unacceptable.
Having watched onboards for both stages, I’m struggling with this one. When I heard the drivers talking about there being no risk, I thought this was just a bit of bravado. But watching the onboards, it’s hard to argue.
Yes, they spend a staggering amount of time on the rev limiter in top, but the road’s largely straight and these are the best rally drivers in the world. What’s the problem? FIA rally director Jarmo Mahonen says anything over 80mph was now cause for concern. And, as it transpires, is likely to be cancelled.
Of course, increased speed doesn’t necessarily mean increased risk. If it did, what on earth would wing commander Andy Green be thinking as he lines Bloodhound up for its first 1000mph attempt?
But there appears to be a degree of paranoia around the governing body right now. There’s a concern that they’ve created a monster in these 2017 World Rally Cars. Within the walls of World Rally Championship officialdom, all comparisons with Group B are now frowned upon and the performance gains over last year’s cars seriously toned down. Quite a contrast to the previous 18 months when the next generation had been trumpeted as a festival of greater speed than ever before on the world’s stages.
Trouble is, this particular horse (or all 380 of them) has bolted. The speed’s here to stay, so the onus is on the FIA for clear direction to rally organisers regarding which roads are and aren’t acceptable. Binning 20 miles for no apparent reason isn’t on. And anyway, 85mph’s nothing. If it’s real speed you want, take a look at Stig Blomqvist on the 1983 Rally Argentina. His Audi averaged 117mph on the 52-mile road from Fray Louis Beltran to Valle Azul in San Carlos de Bariloche. Here’s the best bit, the A2 quattro was ‘only’ geared for 130mph…
What was perhaps even more impressive was the 110mph Markku Alen managed in his Lancia 037 – not bad for a motor geared for 114mph!
Just last year we saw Mark Higgins lap the 37-mile TT course on the Isle of Man at 128.730mph in what was effectively an ultimate-spec Subaru Impreza. Had the weather held, he would have topped 130mph.
Justifiably, Juha Kankkunen would suggest all of that to be child’s play. A decade ago the four-time champion Finn was driving a Subaru Impreza WRX on the Rally of Incas. On one all-asphalt 68-mile stage, KKK turned in an average speed of 150.70mph.
Now that’s what I call an average speed.