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GP Week : Issue 135
Outright victory in the world championship on the first occasion a model has entered that level of competition is a most unusual occasion, given to few, and usually only to a model from the most experienced of rally marques. But it happened to the relatively inexperienced rally company, BMW, when it won the Tour de Corse in 1987. It had been some 14 years since BMW had won its only previous world There is a lot of available detailed forecast information, but at the end of the day it takes experience and an understanding of meteorology to take full advantage of this. It is quite a different work to that in For- mula 1, where accuracy of predictable pre- cipitation is essential. Decisions in rallying relate to what is going to happen far away. “In Formula 1 they can actually react a lot quicker. We have to focus on a four-hour window, the time between actual choosing and fitting of the tyres and the time those tyres will be used on a stage”. And for all the available technical feedback, it often comes down to human feet on the ground; experienced information personnel who know what’s happening at the place they are standing, and can sense the way the weather will change where they are.” And when the 2012 season starts off on the Rallye Monte-Carlo, the movement of the mercury in the thermometer can predict whether the drivers will find a wet surface or an icy one. Much of the preparation work of the team is unseen. In recent years, using available stage split time information has created an unseen art-form behind the scenes: “Major decisions, such as asking a driver to slow down in mid-stage for tactical reasons, are taken by M-Sport chief Malcolm Wilson personally, but only after we have had to collate all the scenarios”. Behind closed doors, far away from ear- shot of rival teams, Mike operates as part of the R&D operation at M-Sport: “ The way that cars are developed is an- other side of our work. Developing individ- ual design of cars these days is a long-term project, and we have to give a lot of thought assessing which way the sport is going to go, and having a car that can adjust.” These days cars have to be designed for a far longer lifespan than in earlier times, and the demands of the sport can change a lot in the meantime. Then it isn’t just the car itself – the whole way the team works needs planning. Team procedures and practices need evaluating. What sort of data needs to be collected by whom and how that is then used for the future? Deciding what particu- lar part of the test work must be carried out in advance of each forthcoming event, when it is permitted: “I work with Chris Gray, the Test and Development Engineer, to decide what conditions are likely to be the most criti- cal on a forthcoming rally, and concentrate on carrying out tests appropriate to these circumstances”. The work of mechanics and technicians on-event takes its own form. The people who have built the cars are usually the people who work on them during an event: “ With so many customer cars run by M- Sport, there is a chance for mechanics to be trained and given experience. This year the engine development side, under Nigel Arnfield, M-Sport’s Head of Engine Devel- opment work, has the new element of the direct injection research. A lot of liaison goes on with Ford America, learning from their work”. The benefit of direct injection or rally- ing management has not yet been fully explored, and always the changing world of rallying means future engineering demands imposed by regulation must be anticipated. Then comes optimising the work of the drivers themselves. How do you get the best of what they can give? “ There is a lot of available experience in matters like diet control, but part of my job is to make contact with the drivers at each service point and get an idea of how they are faring mentally, and analyse why some- thing has happened. "Drivers have their own ideas on personal pre-rally physical training, though we do propose things they might wish to do. As to getting drivers in the right frame of mind for a winning attitude, that is the job of Malcom Wilson and the Director of Engineer Chris- tian Loriaux!” There are still a lot of things which could be done: “ When you consider how Formula 1 driv- ers are trained ... they have a lot more real time in cars than their equivalent colleagues in rallying. They have had time in competi- tion cars right from the age of 10 or so, in karting. But perhaps the most important thing to realise is just how close the world rally championship competition is these days. The car regulations mean that rival types of cars are very close in performance to each other, which is why the smallest details in this business becomes so vital.” Mike and his colleagues have an unending and unenviable job: “ When things go right, nobody ever says anything. When it goes wrong, people never stop reminding you that you got things wrong!” The world championship these days is so highly competitive that even the slightest mis-judgement can make the difference be- tween winning and losing, and then when a mistake is made regarding the weather, that can easily make the difference between win- ning and losing a championship. Every little raindrop these days matters, and people like Mike Croft-White have got their eye on them all the time! Beguin’s Finest Hour ... 46