One of the keys to Ott Tänak’s Rally Turkey victory 12 months ago was the lack of pace from his Toyota Yaris.
Sounds strange, but it’s true. When the Estonian understood his car wasn’t really at the races in the mountains inland from the Mediterranean coast, he throttled back and kept the car in the middle of the road. That won it for him.
Look at the other evidence. Thierry Neuville, Sébastien Ogier and Andreas Mikkelsen all went at it and broke bits on their cars.
Turkey is an old school rough rally that’s won as much with the head as with a heavy right foot. Ogier tackled the infamous Acropolis Rally, but not even Greece could compare with the challenge of the Marmaris-based event.
“Turkey was tougher than any other rallies,” he said. “Definitely for roughness – particularly in the size of the rocks that ended up on the racing line. Turkey is hard for the car because, when the speeds are lower, there’s less natural cooling for the components.”
And heat will be a big deal this week. With ambient temperatures expected to hover around the mid-30s (it will be a bit cooler in the hills), the cars will run as hot as they do in places like Sardinia and Mexico.
But, like Ogier said, what they’ll miss is the airflow you get in the quicker sections to cool everything down. On Friday in particular, the roads are technical, twisty and rocky, with crews having to pick their way up the road and take it steady.
And the message is: the steadier the better. But what does that actually mean? How do you win slowly?
On paper, it’s straightforward: you put less stress and, therefore, less heat into the car. You brake more progressively and potentially with less force to try to keep the discs cooler – so much heat is generated in the wheel arch by extensive and prolonged braking.
Trying to keep the car as straight as possible will help maintain tread on the tyres and lessen the chances of one of the millions of rocks lining the route slashing the sidewall. Even Michelin’s hardest compound will have a tough job dealing with the baking hot and abrasive surface, so containing tyre temperatures is vital.
Running a slightly less aggressive anti-lag system in the car is route one to lower under-bonnet temperatures and a cooler engine brings obvious benefits.
And it’s not just the car that works better with a lower core temperature – the crew does too.
Keeping driver and co-driver at their optimal working temperature is difficult when thermometers inside the cockpit are rising towards 60°C. The crew will utilise everything from cooling vests to a menthol spray on their overalls, which chills the perspiration.
Beyond the physiological, there’s the psychological battle for drivers. It’s the tortoise and hare all over again. It takes bottle as well as brains not to follow the heart and go flat out from the get-go.