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nz rally (minimal audi content)

i have just returned from the annual motor-sport photo-fest of following the
nz international rally.  rain (1st day) and low-light (2nd day) didn't help
the photography bit, but, as always, it was a great opportunity to get away,
meet up with old friends, and to sniff the air of the ultimate motorsport.

the nz rally ended with seat's best result of the year (a strong 3rd), and
the real absence of any challenge to a dominant performance by tommi
makkinen in the Mitsubishi.  the seats are due for a technology update in
time for the finnish rally (transmission and differentials), but looked
good, handled well, and looked powerful enough.  with the 2 up-and-coming
drivers things look good as long as seat can retain the drivers...

as always, a year shows how much the game has moved on.  the "wrc" cars are
night and day from the old group "a" cars (note the distinction, at least 1
lister keeps getting this mixed up - in the "suspension debate").  there is
now little doubt for this watcher that the subaru and toyota cars are now
struggling for pace, if not for reliability.  the state of the art is now
with ford clearly, although the mitsubishi is very close.  it is also very
interesting to have a close look at colin mcrae in the focus and to see how
much his style has changed in the car.  the original sideways "colin mcrae"
which did so much for subaru hi-po sales around the world, has gone to be
replaced with a very tidy and neat style.  his lines were always very
precise.  the car never looked loose, but was clearly setting the pace.

on the 1st day, in the wet conditions, tommi (mitsubishi) and colin (ford)
were going for it.  they put over 40 seconds on the toyotas over the 1st
half-dozen stages.  we saw them on the waanga coast stage (ss6) and again
later on the same stage (ss9). by the time ss9 rolled around colin had
removed his deficit from tommi from -1.7 sec to +1.5 sec.  to see the
differences in lines the drivers take, the differences in handling, and then
to realise that there is less than 1 second difference over a 30km special
stage is almost to defy reality.

anyway colin didn't come through on ss9, and a helicopter hovering told the
story.  so we high-tailed it back to where we had parked the car just in
time to see a ford mechanic drive colin's focus to park it alongside our
car!  we were the only people within a km or 2.  apparently the car had
stopped on colin, and had defied all attempts to re-start.  when the 'copter
had taken colin and nicki away and delivered the mechanic and manager, the
car had started right up.  the 1st 10 minutes were spent with the mechanic
giving the car death, trying to make it fail.  something that the car
resolutely failed to do.  but giving us a nice shot of the turbo glowing
red. once this had failed, the 2 of them then settled down for the wait
until the stage re-opened, and they could drive the car out.  this was about
an hour.  plenty of time to talk.

according to the mechanics, the configuration of the focus for the nz-rally
was active front and centre with a plate-diff rear.  the focus uses a
secondary pump (the primary pump is for the power steering) to supply the
hydraulics for the active clutches.  there is no connection to the dampers
which are passive.  the drivers had found this combination very good, and
colin had been very comfortable with the pace and was counting on a 1st
place.  certainly, on what we saw, tommi would have had his work cut out to
keep the ford at bay.  with regard to active dampers, the mechanics
confirmed that there is a lot of work going on in this area, but as yet
nothing that would transmit to competitive advantage.

a look under the bonnet of the car revealed the engine canted back radically
in the engine bay and the turbo in an optimal position to the lhs.  the
mechanics confirmed that the focus was running the same xtrac box as the
peugeot (who were not in nz), as well as next years hyundai wrc car(!).
including the same clutch arrangement as well.  there has been some
suspicion that the ford ran a centralised clutch, but it could be seen in a
neat cassette on the end of the engine.

as to suspension, and in light of the recent discussions on the list, the
ford guys stated the reason for the front-and-rear struts was to ensure that
the largest possible dampers could be used if required, and to enable easy
setups for differing wheel travel configurations.  wishbones presented too
many packaging issues to be seriously considered.  confirmation also that
they could have used them if required.

the mechanics also alluded to the reason why the focus looks so "neat" at
speed being to do with the program the front and centre diffs are running.
we got talking about the group "b" (audi) era and how we all missed the
sounds and sights of that.  both the ford guys wished out loud that they
could develop the engine without the 34mm restrictor and get some serious
horsepower.  however, they did say (in a slightly eerie echo of walter
rohrl's comments during the group "b" era) that colin had said that the
reactions and skills required from a top driver in the current machinery
were increasing all the time and now, only the best could get the best out
of the machines.

all-in-all a very interesting interlude.  and a highlight.  the other
highlight was a early evening stage (bradely, leg 2) which started on the
top of a ridge and descended through a series of "s" bends to a sharpish 90
degree right.  we had decided to leave the cameras in the car (a small
matter of temporarily losing our media accreditation because of a pillock
fia supervisor).  i positioned myself close to a tree (protection) and down
in a dip of the road which allowed me to have my eye-level about 1/4m above
the road.  when you look through the lense of any camera, you lose
objectivity and also the normal speed references.  for the 1st time in many
years, i found myself amazed by the shear speed of these cars.  the wrc cars
were in 5th gear about 200m from the start accelerating hard, and were
passing me at what i would estimate to be in excess of 140km/hr coming *out*
of a long "s" bend.  they went over a yump at about this speed before going
hard on the brakes (we're talking sparks) for the rh corner.  more than
once, from my vantage point, i found myself thinking "they not going to make
it". apart from auriol who almost stuffed it, they all did of course.  i was
absolutely gob-smacked.  they are so much quicker than the group "a" cars
and far far in excess of the group "b" cars of that late-lamented mid 80's

it seems clear to me that rallying is now embarking on another golden era.
for those with long enough memories, this is pretty special.

i have a couple of shots of the focus engine bay which were left on the
table.  if anyone is interested, drop me a line and i'll email.

'95 rs2
'90 ur-q
'88 mb 2.3-16