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GP Week : Issue 23
One horse, many courses ... TIMES change in this business. In the old days a rally car was built very much with the conditions it was expected to face in mind. A car intended to be used on a forthcoming asphalt rally would be lightweight, honed to be as fast as possible, and often sport special bodywork. A car to be used on rough rallies would be much heavier. Nowadays there is no such thing as an ‘asphalt’or a ‘gravel’ car. David Lapworth, Technical Director of the Subaru World Rally Team explains: “The difference between a car for an asphalt, and a car for a gravel rally, is limited mostly to the suspension. [Asphalt] suspension parts are lighter and designed for fitting bigger brakes and for lower rideheights. Rally wheels are wider and fitted on 18 instead of 15 inch diameter wheels, and the suspension geometry is different; dampers are shorter in length of travel, and the uprights are different in order to fit bigger brakes. “There are lower outboard suspension points to get better stiffness in the suspension and to get roll centres to suit lower rideheights. And, of course, there is more undercar protection for gravel events. “[But] there is no such thing as cars built for asphalt and another car for gravel.” In old days asphalt cars had bulbous wings to cover the racing tyres, and aerodynamic aids all over the body to create more downforce. Regulations nowadays ban any change in body shape. “In fact, asphalt rallies are no faster than gravel rallies, so aero demands are the same, though the aerodynamics on 30 asphaltcars tend to be better because the car is lower to the ground,”adds Lapworth. “The demands from the gravel roads in Finland and asphalt roads in Germany are much the same. Aero work on gravel rallies only gets compromised for the really rough rallies because those events demand higher rideheight and on the slow events like Cyprus, Greece and Turkey because of the engine cooling.” Whereas Subaru had new model cars for Finland, because the S14 model was introduced only two rallies earlier, Fords brought to Finland the same cars which had already competed in Monte Carlo, Sweden, Mexico, Jordan and Sardinia – the full range of conditions. “Logistical considerations are very important nowadays.”says M-Sport’s Technical Director Christian Loriaux. “Also, there are regulatory limits as to the total number of cars we are allowed to build each year, also rules how to pair events on which the car must be used. We strip the cars down between events, however, and every two rallies or so a bodyshell will be put on a jig and closely examined for any minute cracks. “The strength of a car nowadays comes from the roll cage. The cage is not just for safely, it gives the car its stiffness. And nowadays the work is all about weight management. There are complex rules about minimum weight of bodyshells and of the complete cars – it is not easy to get down to the minimum weight for bodies if we are to achieve the maximum available strength, but it is for the full car. That gives us the chance to bring it up to the regulation minimum by adding extra ballast, and in so doing improve the handling of the car as well.” The difference in equipment fitted to cars for the various conditions normally means that a gravel car, before adding ballast, tends to be heavier, on account of the undercar protection that has to be fitted. This is despite the heavier brakes and lighter suspension parts on the asphalt car. Weight management is the word these days. “When it comes to checking that the complete cars run always above the minimum weight (1230kg) that is an art form in itself,”adds Loriaux. “The rally engineers have to check so many things, you have to check how much is the fuel load at any particular time, have to make allowance for any accident damage and, of course, have to make allowances for how much mud and gravel is on the car.” Cars can accumulate anything from 20 to 100kg of mud. “The rally engineers are obsessed by this problem, it is one of their most important responsibilities. Not always do people get things perfectly right. In 2005 Toni Gardemeister was excluded during the Wales Rally GB for being underweight. The Ford team had done all their calculations, especially allowing for the accumulation of mud under the car. The organisers, however, unknown to the team, had installed car washing facilities on entering the service park, just before the scrutineers made the weight check. The organisers had washed away the mud!”