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GP Week : Issue 141
WRC Academy Wales Rally GB sees the finale of the first year of the ‘WRC Academy’, the successor to the former Junior World Rally Championship, and a knock-on from the concept of the earlier Pirelli Star Driver scheme. The WRC Academy is a bold project in which drivers could contest a six- round championship based on world championship events, linked in with high quality training and support and ultimately with a prize of half million Euros of sponsorship for the most successful driver. Drivers could enter the Academy in two ways. Firstly, wrapping up their commitment under the three-year WRC control tyres agreement (which ran 2008- 2010), Pirelli provided full sponsorship for five fully sponsored candidates entries. Secondly young drivers who were endorsed by their national federations could enter on a self-funded basis. Each driver was assigned to identically prepared Fiesta R2 cars. Each driver would contest the first two legs of the qualifying events, with points awarded not only under normal FIA scoring systems and also one point was awarded for each fastest stage time by an Academy driver. Provision was made for up to 24 drivers – the season started with 20 entries, two of whom withdrew before the start of the season. Another two dropped out during the season, and some replacement candidates were subsequently enlisted. The big challenge was to make it all happen! M-Sport was chosen as supplier of the identical R2 cars and undertook the initial car preparation work. A new factory was meanwhile opened in south-east Poland, for the purpose of day-to-day maintenance of the cars, transporting the cars and then running them on events. Project chief was Maciej Woda, who as the boss of quite the biggest rally team in the world explained the most dramatic year of his career: “Nobody had any idea how it would all work when the project started. I think that rally-by-rally we made steps forward on the set-up of the cars and the ways the mechanics should work and if we started next year based on this experience it will be fantastic”. The big crisis came at the Sardinia Rally, the second of the six qualifying events. It seemed that one particular rock damaged the engines of eight of the Fiestas, in addition to two drivers independently suffering self-inflicted serious car body damage. Not only were many of the crankcases damaged, allowing oil to escape, but five cars had cracked cylinder heads, all caused by the impact: “It was exceptionally hard work repairing some of the engines before the next round, in Finland, and we were pleased to see that each of the repaired engines then went well.” Car reliability otherwise has been exceptional. On the fourth round, Germany, only one of the cars failed to finish. Woda himself has had a colourful career so far. Desperate to make his way into motorsport, he badgered the famous Polish driver Sobieslaw Zasada for advice, which the Polish business giant eventually gave. Zasada advised Woda to go into rallying rather than racing, which was where Zasada had made his sporting reputation. Woda joined M-Sport in Britain in September 2004, progressing as an engineer in the world championship team, which led to him setting set up the Academy team base at his home town of Krakow. New effective motorway networks mean that transport to rallies from Krakow Reaches its climax 40