Saturday | 08 Nov 2014

GB Countdown: The challenge

The final round of the 2014 FIA World Rally Championship (13-16 November) always poses a big challenge thanks to its combination of complex forest stages and the notoriously lively Welsh weather.

The forests of north and mid-Wales are characterised by their fast, muddy, slippery nature and form some of the most technical and demanding stages of the entire calendar. And that’s just for starters.

The event’s sucker punch is the winter weather, which can throw rain, fog and even snow into the mix, making conditions even more unpredictable and demanding.

Mud is an intrinsic part of Wales Rally GB, and to do well here drivers need to be able to judge how slippery it is, and how much, if at all, they need to slow down. Mud-covered or not, road surface conditions, and hence grip levels, vary enormously. For that reason it’s essential to have a good recce and pace notes.

“No other round is particularly similar to it,” explained Didier Clément, Citroen Racing’s DS3 chief engineer.

“It’s the rally where you can get the most rain and the most mud. The roads are therefore very specific. And the grip can change all the time! Sometimes, grip levels can be fine. But when the road surface features muddy, greasy stones, the grip can be virtually non-existent.”

As well as playing havoc with grip, and making the cars look like they have been pulled from a swamp, a build up of mud underneath the car will mess with its balance and handling. It is not unusual for teams to remove 100 kilograms of caked-on mud from each car at service. That's the weight equivalent of two Welsh Mountain Sheep.

Another challenge in Wales concerns car set-up. Teams must find the best compromise between a harder set-up, which will give drivers accuracy and the confidence to push at speed, and a setting that is soft enough to get the most grip from the tyres. Most teams will come armed with a base set-up from a pre-event test, but with so many variables this is a rally you can never be completely ready for.

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