Thursday | 08 May 2014

How to: Drive a water splash in Argentina

Rally Argentina is famous for its water splashes. The stages are littered with them, and knowing how get a car across one at speed is vital if you want to do well here.

Too much caution and a driver will give away time. Go too fast, and the force of the car hitting the water could detonate the cooling system. As well as that, there’s the ever-present risk of the engine ingesting a cylinder full of water and drowning.

So what’s the secret to getting it right? We asked Hyundai Motorsport driver Thierry Neuville for his top tips:

1: Know your water splash
"Most importantly, you need to know the kind of water splash you’re dealing with and how deep it is. Here in Argentina we have many different types - long ones, deep ones, ones you can drive flat out, and even some in the corners. I find those trickiest. You also need to think about entry and exit points. Sometimes the water will be at the bottom of a steep slope and the front end will dive under the surface before it levels out. These are the most dangerous ones for the car. During the recce we note as many details as we can. We don’t actually stop and measure the depth, but you get a feeling of how deep it is based on how much the car slows down. During the recce we also consider whether the level is likely to rise much if it rains. Some places do, some don’t. I reckon most of the splashes this year are between 10 and 15 centimetres deep. The deepest about 20cm."

This lever closes the i20's primary engine air intake

2: Prepare the car
"Like most World Rally Cars in Argentina, my i20 car is fitted with a system to help protect it in water splashes. It is activated by my co-driver Nicolas, who knows from the pace notes when it needs to be used, and when it’s okay just to go flat out. If we need it, Nicolas pulls a little lever on the roll cage next to his seat that pulls a flap across the engine air intake. When this is closed, the engine breathes through a second rear-facing intake inside the engine bay. At the same time, the power to the cooling fans is cut to prevent them being damaged in the water, and the windscreen wipers and washer jets are activated."

3: Keep the nose up
"If it’s a short and shallow water splash we’ll just drive through as normal. We’ll feel the car slow a little, but otherwise there’s no difference. For the rest, the important thing is to get the right amount of braking done in advance so you can get on the throttle and lift the nose as you enter the water. With the right angle, the undertray should help the car slide over the water like a boat. Even so, you always sense the drag of the water. It’s quite impressive when you feel it."

4: Power on through
"From here on, it’s all about keeping the throttle on and getting out. The wipers will shift the wall of water on the windscreen. Once we’re out of the deep water Nicolas will open the main engine intake, we’ll be back at full power, and we’ll be off."