Chapter 1: There are rally cars, and there are rally cars...
Hello everyone, welcome to my blog!
I presume that if you find yourself on this blog you are a fan, a driver, a co-driver, a technician, a marshal, a scrutineer, etc. Ok the list is long so anyway, let’s just say that you love rally and you might even have a job in it.
Have you ever thought about the "word": motorsport?
The word motorsport, in my opinion, is a bit of a paradox in itself. I don't speak for everyone but as far as I am concerned whenever I hear the word "sport" I also hear competition. When I hear competition I also hear other words like "fair play", or "even playing field". Fact is there is no such thing as fair play in motorsport or if you will: rally. Everything depends on the car you have. And trust me when I say: there are cars, and there are cars!
Have you ever wondered why 2 cars that appear the same visually sometimes have different exhaust sounds? Why one car will nose dive after a jump and not the other? Why one car will show more speed on a radar gun then another in a given place, when both are on the rev limiter? Why one driver will systematically have reliability issues and not the other? How come?
Some of you will say: "well, some drivers are crappy, others can drive, dude!"
I am sure that is correct. But that is not all.
Here is my personal experience on the matter:
In the end of 2002, after I had just finished a season of rallying in the European Championship, my father who was also my manager, gave a call to the official FORD rally team and talked in direct with the boss over there. He asked if there was any way that I could drive a Ford next year in the WRC. The answer was "yes, come up here and see me".
I got the news later and was really psyched about the whole thing. This was a dream come true for me! Driving in the WRC was awesome!
We travelled to England a few days later. We had a tour around the facilities, together with the business manager. Looked really impressive. Saw the cars... Oh, look there is my car...
The workshop is shaped as a long hall, with cars on the left and cars on the right.
I did not know at the time, but it turns out the side of the hall on which your car is being assembled on, is very important.
My car was assembled on the right, as you enter the workshop. The world (nominated, official) cars were on the left, at the end. Had I known, this would have been the first sign for me to run out of there without looking back. Unfortunately I did no such thing, and I stepped into the trap.
The problem came later, with the first rally, and the second, and the third... We were fuc*ing slow. I could not believe how slow I was. I was losing 3 sec/km to the leader, everywhere. And I had no idea why.
Sure, this was all new. But then I started having doubts about things. Time came for Acropolis rally, in Greece. There is something called "scrutineering" before each event. This is where the cars are all checked technically, to see if they are legal. The cars are weighed there and they cannot be lower than 1230kg. So the idea is to bring the car with minimum fuel and equipped with everything you need for the rally, like spare wheel, tools etc.
I happened to be there, just for the hell of it because I had nothing better to do. So I strolled around to the weighing station and looked at my car weight : 140kg heavier than the world cars.
I was shocked. How can my car weigh 140kg more? That's like having 2 adult passengers in the back seat with you on the stages.
I later found out what the problem was, when I asked around a little bit. It turned out all my suspension parts: lower arms, A-arms, steering arms, cross members, were in steel. On the World cars it was titanium. The bonnet? Aluminum on the world cars, not me. The windscreen? Thin on the world cars, not me. God only knows what else was different.
But that is not all.
A bit later came Neste Rally Finland. Again, I was slow as hell and I was pissed. I had heard about this Finnish magazine called Vauhdin Maailma which took speed gun readings of the cars in stages. Hmmm...
So I got myself a copy and started looking. Turns out there is a stage called Laukka right next door to where Juha Kankkunen lives and that stage happens to have a very, very long straight near the end.
At the end of the straight, all cars are on the rev limiter, or so you think, and since a while, that's how long that straight is. The guy with the radar gun gets you just before you start braking at the end. Perfect.
My speed was 191 km/h. The factory cars were all above 200, including some other privates. Need I say more? Again the shock. For me this was clear: apparently all Fords had the same final gear. The only thing could have been other engines were revving more than mine. It turns out my car was so low on power it did not even get to the rev limiter. It just runs out of breath at around 8000rpm, while others rev much faster, and actually get to the rev limiter, higher in 8000's. Apparently, either I had another engine, or it was managed differently.
Too bad my car wasn't assembled on the left side of the workshop huh?
This is what is usually called an "upright". It's basically a term defining the suspension assembly. When you hear "upright" you can basically understand shock absorber and the tube it sits in, spring, etc. Looks like a nice Reiger shock, right? Wrong. See the tube under the spring? It's got a golden color. The world cars and some other privileged privateers had a black colored one.
Some might say: "well, Antony, they just changed the metal from picarellium mangastarte to titarellium bongore. So the color is different, get a life!" WRONG.
Somebody had the brilliant idea to make a shock with a net of tiny little bearings in between the sliding metal parts. Brilliant, except no one ever thought of telling me.
So, I asked around if I could ever get this thing on my car. The answer was a bit of a shocker:
"......well uhhh yes....but......then you need to upgrade your car to the low ride height suspension kit...."
"....well...there is this other cross member that allows positioning of the car much lower to the ground for better handling....the ball bearing shocks work with that....."
Oh dear lord in heaven!
So then, up until now you have learned that on my first season in the wonderful world of WRC as a naive private guy:
There was a special rule for guys like me which says that:
Thou shall drive stages with 2 passengers on your back seat !
There was a special rule for guys like me which says that:
Thou shall use an asthmatic engine !
Ok, is that it?
Thou shall also have the old chassis/rollcage specification which does not have the optimized weight distribution for better handling.
Thou shall not have the low riding car with cross member/suspension/ball bearing shocks for drastically improved handling.
Thou shall not have the "high compression" engine
The what engine??? That's right, there was also another engine, called the "high compression" engine, which revved much higher than mine. Off course this was also something that I just happened to hear about from....no-one.
Let me put this simply, the difference between the two engines was "huge", and I know cause I got the new one, eventually...
The difference was like, well, if suddenly when you push on the gas, instead of the usual kick, the fuc*ing YETI runs down the Himalaya and, as he runs.... kicks straight up your arse with his size 67 foot.
So, as I said, in rally there are cars and there are cars.
You better watch out for which side of the workshop yours is built on.
My problem is that no-one ever told us about all this when we made the initial deal. I like to know what I sign and pay for, don't you ?