Thursday | 02 Oct 2014

France countdown: The challenge

With a competitive distance of just 303 kilometres, Rallye de France is the shortest event of the WRC season but it weighs in as one of its biggest challenges.

To explain what makes this rally so difficult, sought some expert advice from Thierry Neuville and Bryan Bouffier of the Hyundai team. Both have impeccable asphalt credentials; Neuville won the most recent asphalt WRC round in Germany while Bouffier cut his rallying teeth in the fiercely competitive French tarmac championship.

Here’s how they summed up the challenge:

1: Fickle weather
TN: “The weather here is very unpredictable – especially in the mountains where it can switch from clear to rain very quickly. Getting the correct information about what is happening out on the stages when we are making our tyre choices in service is vital.”

BB: “The team gets reports from many different sources, including our own weather crews, Meteo France, our gravel crews and people out on the stages. Even then, with mountains all around it’s a huge challenge to predict the localised showers.”

2: Tough tyre choices
TN: “I remember last year I was the one who did the best tyre choice on the first day, and was able to catch the lead. We were backed up with very strong weather reports and info from our gravel crews. But luck plays a part too. Make the wrong choice here and your rally can be over.”

BB: “Sometimes you have to take risks with your selections. If you want to bring two rain tyres for instance, you have to carry an additional spare, that’s 20kg extra – or about 0.1sec per kilometre. It’s not just the rain you have to think about either. Much of this year’s route is in the forests, and these shaded sections take longer to dry than open areas.”

3: A unique surface
TN: “I don’t know how they make the roads here, but the surface is unique. When they are dry they are abrasive and the grip is quite okay, but as soon as it’s rains you notice sections of ‘black top’ where the grip is horrible. It can be like driving on ice. In a dry recce it can be impossible to see where these are, so it’s a nasty surprise when you reach them on the rally. The roads get dirty too, especially where corners are cut and mud is dragged on. Your car can carry this mud from one corner to the next, and on left, right combinations, it’s a shock to discover half your tyres are still muddy.” 

BB:This is why our gravel crews are so important. This year organisers have put marker boards on the corners to try and stop corner cutting, so there should be less mud than previous years. Okay, you might get away with clipping one or two, but they are best avoided – they could easily puncture a radiator.”

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