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GP Week : Issue 23
>> WRC INSIGHT Phil Short – Weather Man TYRE choices were intended to have been outlawed from world championship rallying by the arrival of the new Pirelli control tyre but, in practice, things have not been straightforward. At the Monte Carlo Rally, the first round of the series under the new rules, three different types of tyres were available, which threatened to create the most difficult tyre choice scenario of the year. Happily, the weather did turn out to be changeable and choices played no part in the results. History is likely to dictate that the two-way choice facing competitors in Rallye Deutschland will be far more critical to the outcome of the rally. Phil Short is the man at BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team at the centre of the invidious decision making process. “This year tyre choices are not so difficult in some ways as they have been,”says Short. “There are only two choices available. There is no long list of available tyre compound specifications and the cutting of tyre treads is not allowed. Basically, the hard compound tyres are for the dry, the soft for the wet, but choosing which to fit is not straightforward like it is on the Grand Prix tracks. It is not a question of looking around you and checking where the clouds are and whether it will start raining at the track in the next few minutes. “For us, it is a matter of knowing what will happen on the stages far away from the service area. It may be dry there for the moment but the weather forecast says it will change. We need to know when it will change, or it may be wet at the moment and we need to know how quickly it might dry. Winds, temperature and whether the stages are open to the elements or protected by trees are all relevant. We are trying to predict what will happen 100km away in up to three hours time.” Outside help is allowed, to a degree. Organisers permit one person from each team to be at a specific spot on each stage and report back to base as to what they know. That helps crews decide which types of tyre to fit. And then the teams are allowed a ‘Safety Car’ to drive through the stages, again carefully regulated by the organisation. “The crew in this car can warn the competitors about places made hazardous because of the weather, but they only have a small time frame in which they can drive into the stages. Often this is too late for mechanics to respond to advice about tyre choices by co-drivers can be given specific warnings of dangerous hazards.” Some teams use sophisticated weather forecasting systems but these are not as essential as they might seem. “Look at what happens in Formula 1. Even the most sophisticated systems do not guarantee completely accurate forecasts. Some get it right and others do not. Nobody can claim to be the master in this business. Even the mightiest teams can make mistakes!” Because of the greater number of competitors, the total number of tyres that Pirelli must bring to Germany will be around the same number as they had to bring to Monte Carlo when the three choices were available. Pirelli’s world championship tyre manager, Mario Isola, explained the difference between tyres on offer. “It is only the compound. The tread pattern on the soft and hard tyres is the same as is their construction. They look the same from the outside. “Certainly we have to bring more tyres than on a gravel world championship rally, even though the FIA is changing some of the ways in which the number of tyres are calculated. And it isn’t just a question of hard for dry and soft for wet – crews may easily wish to fit soft tyres for dry stages run in lower temperature conditions. “The FIA want crews to have new tyres every time they leave a service park, and that means we have to bring a lot of tyres to rallies.” The FIA may not get all their intentions fulfilled, but any shortfall in objectives is not for lack of trying to make improvements in the sport ... 31